Characters

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 380

A Dream Play by August Strindberg is an expressionistic rather than realistic drama. This means that the characters often lack individual names and act symbolically as character types used to illustrate emotions, ideas, and spiritual realities rather than imitate ordinary people. The play has many minor characters, each illustrating a human type or situation. Some of the most important are discussed below:

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Indra: Although the god Indra is not present on stage, he is important within the drama as the father of Agnes and as a symbol and concept. Within Hinduism and Buddhism, Indra is a sky god, somewhat like the Greek Zeus, associated with weather and the heavens. In Indian sacred literature, he has two daughters.

Daughter of Indra: This daughter of Indra, incarnated as a human woman Agnes, is the protagonist of the play. In her human form, the Daughter interacts with humans and shares their passions and suffering, functioning almost as a Christ-like figure, a divine being who lives and suffers in mortal form. Her experience leads her to compassion for human suffering. The other characters in the play are ones she encounters in her sojourn as a human and are, in a sense, part of her dream of mortal life from which she awakens at the end of the play as she returns to Heaven.

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The Officer represents the romantic belief in the saving power of love. He is an idealist who believes that love will provide a solution to how to be happy in a world in which injustice and suffering are common. He becomes disillusioned over the course of the play.

The Lawyer: Axel, who marries Agnes, is a figure who also represents the goodness of humanity. Although himself a victim of injustice, he attempts to protect the poor and powerless and has a strong sense of duty.

The Poet: This character represents literature as human striving towards the spiritual. Although aware of the often flawed nature of the world and its inhabitants, the Poet believes in the possibility of redemption and sees suffering as having a spiritual purpose rather than simply being pointless misery.

The Deans: The four Deans in this play represent the futility of a certain type of human knowledge and pride. Petty and arrogant, they are blind to spiritual truths.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 831

Daughter of Indra

Daughter of Indra, incarnated as Agnes, a goddess who comes down to Earth in the form of a beautiful woman to find out why humanity is so discontented. 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 always will be stifled by the self-righteous, she can look on humanity only 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 Officer

The Officer, Alfred, a high-ranking military officer and teacher. As the action of the play telescopes in time, 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 (Agnes) from the drudgery of domestic life and takes her to Fairhaven, a romantic paradise, he lands in Foulstrand, where he witnesses the everlasting misery of the human condition. In his constant failure to find true love, he represents disillusioned romanticism.

The Attorney

The Attorney, Axel, a lawyer. 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 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, which always result in recriminations. Through their marriage, he enlightens Agnes 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

The Poet, an erratic visionary who bathes in mud to come down from the ethereal regions of lofty thought and immerse himself in the dirt of life. Caked with mud, he is protected from the stings of horseflies. Being both idealistic and cynical, he sees through life’s injustices and hypocrisies and rails against the gods. Although he is 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 come only through suffering and death.

The Quarantine Officer

The Quarantine Officer, the overseer of Foulstrand who rehabilitates the overindulgent and the diseased by having them work out their disabilities on instruments of torture and execution. Disguised as a blackamoor, he paints himself to be blacker than he is while indulging in a masquerade to escape from the odiousness of his job. In dealing with profligates and incurables, he has grown callous and indifferent to human misery. He makes the Daughter of Indra and the Officer aware that even love is not immune to corruption.

The Doorkeeper

The Doorkeeper, the guardian of the entrance to the opera house. Wrapped in a shawl of woes, she has spent twenty-six years crocheting a bedspread. Once a famous ballerina, she deteriorated when her lover abandoned her, and now she listens to all the griefs of humanity. She gives the Daughter of Indra the shawl of human miseries and lets her become a doorkeeper so that she can witness human disappointment.

The Billposter

The Billposter, a poster of signs who is overjoyed because he has finally received the fishnet and fish box that he has wanted all his life. He soon becomes dissatisfied with the net and discovers that the box is the wrong shade of green. From him, the Daughter of Indra learns that humans cannot be satisfied.

The Glazier

The Glazier, a worker. He uses his diamond to unlock the cloverleaf door behind which is supposed to be the mystery of the universe.

The Deans of Philosophy, Theology, Medicine, and Jurisprudence

The Deans of Philosophy, Theology, Medicine, and Jurisprudence, pompous academicians who constantly bicker among themselves as to who has the greater claim to the truth. They open the mysterious cloverleaf door and find nothing behind it. They try to stone the Daughter of Indra when she attempts to teach them.

He and She

He and She,

Ugly Edith

Ugly Edith,

The Coal Heavers

The Coal Heavers, and

The Blind Man

The Blind Man, all characters who suffer life’s disappointments.

Husband

Husband and

Wife

Wife, a happy couple who go off to commit suicide because they know that their happiness cannot last.

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