Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 644
From the beginning of his career, the conflict between the sexes was one of August Strindberg’s most constant, even obsessive, subjects, and he produced several of the most memorable dramas ever written on the topic, notably THE FATHER (1887), MISS JULIE (1888), and THE DANCE OF DEATH (1901-04). Although, as a one act play, THE LINK may lack the scope and depth of the above masterpieces, it is their equal in thematic directness and dramatic impact. Like other great Strindberg plays, it begins as a starkly naturalistic drama and then, by the sheer intensity of the presentation, assumes larger-than-life, even symbolic, stature.
In the early moments of the play, the inevitable inequity and arbitrariness of the law is demonstrated. The young Judge has no experience and little training for his job. The jury is made up of semi-educated local types who vote according to their provincial prejudices and personal likes and dislikes. The Attorneys have no regard for justice, only a facility in manipulating technicalities in order to collect their fees. But it is the law, itself, which is the major villain.
The injustice to the Baron and Baroness is clearly foreshadowed in the treatment accorded to the honest farmer Alexandersson. Because legal technicalities make it impossible for him to defend himself, and he is unwilling to lie to the court, the farmer is fined and ruined on a slander charge brought against him by an ex-employee—even though the employee was guilty of the accused crime and everyone knows it. All are helpless in the face of an impersonal, absurd judicial system. The legal process, in Strindberg’s view, is not a quest for justice, but a contest between manipulators and liars.
Thus, as the Baron and Baroness contend for the custody of their child, it is a foregone conclusion that the court will act in the worst interests of both. But, as the play progresses, the legal contest becomes secondary to the elemental struggle between husband and wife. THE LINK becomes a profound exploration of the tensions, conflicts, and passions inherent in the love-hate relationship between men and women.
Both parties agree to part amicably and not let their private dispute erupt into public view. Most importantly, they promise not to argue about the custody of the boy lest he be taken away from both of them. But once they are face to face in the courtroom, their competitiveness and need for self-vindication provokes an intense clash. Each accuses the other of poisoning the child’s mind and of trying to make the youngster over in their own image. Thus, the child is not only a “link” between them, but also an object of contention that separates them. As they argue they become oblivious to the court and concentrate only on exposing and probing the most vulnerable spots in each other.
But as they do so they also reveal their powerful attraction to each other. “Parting is hard,” he laments to her, “living together is impossible.” Each sex, in Strindberg’s view, longs to emulate the other, hence the struggle for dominance. So once they are put into opposition, considerations of logic and strategy must give way to the primal struggle: “Do you know—do you know what we have been fighting against?” the Baron asks his wife. “You call it God—I call it Nature! And Nature drives us to hate each other, just as it impells us to love each other.”
The struggle ends, of course, in a defeat for both of them. The child is lost to the Baron’s ignorant, narrow enemies on the jury. The final impression the play leaves us with is that of people trapped—trapped in a maze of absurd legal rituals and procedures that will financially and emotionally ruin everyone involved; trapped even more thoroughly by their own powerful emotional needs, frustrations, and hates.
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