Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Confession of a Fool gives powerful expression to many of Strindberg’s obsessive themes: love as a struggle for power and dominance; sex as a cruel battle between blind desire and hatred; marriage as warfare; and women as Madonnas who are actually predators—“treacherous, faithless, with sharp claws.” Fatherhood was important to Strindberg; he believed that a man’s children are his immortality; thus, the matter of paternity is crucial. Like Axel, Strindberg was tortured by the thought that, once he no longer trusts his wife, a man is unable to know for certain that he is father of his child. This dilemma was the subject of one of Strindberg’s best-known plays, Fadren (1887; The Father, 1899). What is only a possibility in The Confession of a Fool is there fully expressed: A cruel woman systematically drives her husband insane by raising doubts about the paternity of their daughter. Provoked into throwing a burning lamp at his wife, he is pronounced insane, and a motherly nurse tenderly helps him into a straitjacket. Strindberg, an astonishingly prolific writer (with fifty-eight plays; fifteen novels; more than one hundred short stories; and numerous poems, historical works, and essays to his name) returns again and again to the subject which obsessed him: warfare between the sexes.

Beyond its plot and characterization, The Confession of a Fool conveys a sinister image of woman through its...

(The entire section is 456 words.)