Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429

This is an expressionistic play in which a deity travels to the world to experience and witness human suffering.

Indra, a deity in Hinduism and Buddhism, sends his daughter (Agnes) to Earth to examine and report back to him on whether human suffering is justified. She descends or "sinks" to...

(The entire section contains 969 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your subscription to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Start your Subscription

This is an expressionistic play in which a deity travels to the world to experience and witness human suffering.

Indra, a deity in Hinduism and Buddhism, sends his daughter (Agnes) to Earth to examine and report back to him on whether human suffering is justified. She descends or "sinks" to the world. As a resident of heaven or some supernatural place, Agnes's visit to the world is presented as a dream, perhaps her dream. This is important because it suggests that the world and human existence is a dream. And if life is like a dream, anything is possible—good and bad. Time is not necessarily linear, things don't have to make sense, and there need not be any underlying meaning or universal truth about the how and why of life. It is a struggle to make sense of things, and it is a struggle to endure the conflict of misery and happiness. The characters in the play show that misery and happiness always occur together.

Note that many of the characters constantly want to know what is behind the door. When the door finally opens, there is nothing there. Strindberg illustrates that life seems both logical and illogical. The recurring phrase is that "humans are to be pitied" because they have to struggle through a dreamlike, senseless existence. As an existential play, consider that if there is no inherent meaning to existence, one (or a character) must make meaning for him or herself.

The Officer continues to wait for Victoria. Although he waits interminably, he finds meaning in this ritual. He is an idealist. The Lawyer is a realist who tries to show Agnes human misery by marrying and having a child with her. The marriage is miserable, and he chastises her for abandoning her child when she goes to witness other human suffering. The Poet is both realist and idealist. He debates with Agnes on meaning and existence, once saying,

do you now understand what love is, with its utmost joys merged into its utmost sufferings, with its mixture of what is most sweet and most bitter? Can you now grasp what woman is? Woman, through whom sin and death found their way into life?

Agnes meets other minor characters, each with his or her own tale of woe.

The play ends with Agnes ascending back to heaven with the promise that she will give an honest report on human misery. Her relief from witnessing human suffering is to leave the world, giving the notion that death is relief from suffering—a conflict that humans must endure.

Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540

A Dream Play is an expressionistic drama built on a montage of scenes following the journey of a central character. The Daughter of Indra is a goddess who comes down to earth in the form of a beautiful woman to find out why humanity is so discontent. Like Christ, she experiences the pain of being human. At first, she is hopeful that love will conquer all, but after she listens to the anguished cries of humanity, experiences the pain of family life, and discovers that reform will always be stifled by the self-righteous, she can only look upon humanity with compassion. She finally realizes that human beings are creatures who hopelessly harbor spiritual aspirations but are held down by the weight of their fleshly existence. When she ascends back into the heavens, she throws her shoes into the fire of purification as she leaves a world of never-ending conflicts and contradictions.

The play is built around the disappointments and dreams of three men: an officer, an attorney, and a poet. The officer is a high-ranking military officer and teacher. As the action of the play progresses, he changes from a youthful, effervescent, well-groomed soldier to an aging, weary, unkempt derelict as he hopelessly spends a lifetime waiting for his dream lover, the opera singer Victoria. Restless and self-pitying, he is constantly irritated by the injustice and repetitiveness of life but continues to hold on to the romantic notion that love will cure all ills. When he rescues the Daughter of Indra from the drudgery of domestic life and takes her to Fairhaven, a romantic paradise, he lands in Foulstrand, a modern-day inferno, where he witnesses the everlasting misery of the human condition. In his constant failure to find true love, he represents disillusioned romanticism.

The attorney is disgruntled. Through his dealings with the crimes and viciousness of humanity, he has acquired a pale, haggard, and discolored face, along with blackened and bleeding hands. Denied his doctorate by the self-righteous academicians, he becomes a Christ figure who suffers rejection because he defends the poor and the helpless. More of a realist than the officer, he sees human beings as flawed creatures trapped between their commitments to odious duties and their desire for life’s elusive pleasures—pleasures that always result in recriminations. He marries the Daughter of Indra and enlightens her on the inhuman torments of living in poverty and the constant antagonisms of family life. Later, he continually reminds her of her sacred duty to her child.

The poet is an erratic visionary who bathes in mud in order to come down from the ethereal regions of lofty thought and to immerse himself in the dirt of life. Caked with mud, he is protected from the flies. Being both idealistic and cynical, he sees through life’s injustices and hypocrisies and rails against the gods. Though an earthbound creature hampered by his bodily existence, he still reaches for spiritual rejuvenation. When those around him are abandoning hope, he realizes that human redemption will only come through suffering and death.

In A Dream Play, Strindberg felt that he had created a new form. That form, later termed expressionism, was adopted by the German dramatists and became a trend in modern drama.

Illustration of PDF document

Download A Dream Play Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Themes