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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 214

The Father by August Strindberg is a play that focuses on the battle of the sexes. The author discusses women who are against a male-dominated world. Strindberg addresses this issue from a religious and empirical perspective. He further gives a clear description of the type of relationships men should have...

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The Father by August Strindberg is a play that focuses on the battle of the sexes. The author discusses women who are against a male-dominated world. Strindberg addresses this issue from a religious and empirical perspective. He further gives a clear description of the type of relationships men should have with their wives and daughters. The author admits that paternity is a primary cause of marital problems.

Strindberg writes about a couple, Huck and Laura, who constantly disagree on their daughter’s future. Laura wants their daughter, Bertha, to be an educator but be home-schooled in an environment where she will learn Christian values. She is not comfortable with her daughter going to a school where her faith will be swayed because of friends who are atheists and have negative views about religion.

To ensure that Bertha does not go to school, she tells people that Huck has a psychological condition. She further tries to make him believe that he is not Bertha’s father. Despite her efforts, Huck can see his wife’s plan. However, he finds it hard to go against her. Furthermore, Laura is manipulative and callous. She taunts Huck to a point where he is about to kill her and uses the incident as proof that he is mentally unstable.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1083

When Nöjd gets a servant girl named Emma in trouble, the captain sends an orderly to bring Nöjd to face the pastor. The culprit is vague about his affair and hints that the paternity of the child is uncertain and that it is possible that Ludwig is the real father. The pastor tells Nöjd that he will have to support the child, but the soldier claims that Ludwig should contribute also. The captain declares angrily that the case will go to court. After Nöjd leaves, the captain, who is married to the pastor’s sister Laura, berates the pastor for his gentleness. The pastor says he thinks it a pity to saddle Nöjd with the support of a child if he is not the real father.

In his house, complains the captain, there are too many women: his mother-in-law, a governess, old nurse Margaret, and his daughter Bertha. The captain, worried about his daughter’s education, which is being influenced in all different directions by the people around her, deplores the incessant struggle between men and women.

After the pastor leaves, Laura enters to collect her household money. Because his affairs are near bankruptcy, the captain asks her to keep an account of the money she spends. Laura asks what he has decided about Bertha’s education. Laura objects when he announces his intention to send her to town to board with Auditor Safberg, a freethinker, but the captain reminds her that a father has the sole control of his children. When Laura brings up the subject of Nöjd’s affair, the captain admits that the paternity will be difficult to determine. Laura scoffingly claims that if such were the case, even the child of a married woman could be any other man’s offspring.

Laura confides to Dr. Östermark, the new village doctor, her suspicion that her husband is mentally ill. He buys books he never reads, and he tries to fathom events on other planets by peering through a microscope. He has become a man who cannot stand by his decisions, although he is vehement when he first utters one. The captain, speaking confidentially with his old nurse, expresses his fear that his family is plotting against him and that something evil is about to happen.

The family quarrel is clearly outlined when Bertha complains to her father that her grandmother is trying to teach her spiritualism and has even told the girl that the captain, who is a meteorologist by profession, is a charlatan. Bertha agrees with her father that she ought to go away to study, but Laura boasts that she will be able to persuade Bertha to stay home. She hints again that she can prove the captain is not Bertha’s father.

Dr. Östermark explains to Laura that she is mistaken about her husband; he used a spectroscope, not a microscope, to examine the elements on other planets. Still, the doctor says, he will watch the captain for any other signs of insanity. Laura also tells the doctor that the captain fears he is not Bertha’s father, an idea that Laura planted in her husband’s mind. When he begins to worry over his daughter’s paternity, old Margaret tries to reassure him.

The captain tries to stop his wife’s continued persecution of him. She intercepts some of his mail, thwarting him in the progress of his scientific ventures. He further accuses her of spreading among his friends the idea that he is insane. Afraid that under such provocation he might lose his reason, he appeals to his wife’s selfishness. It will be in her best interests for him to remain sane, he says, since insanity might lead to his suicide, which would invalidate her right to collect his life insurance. She can assure his sanity by confessing that Bertha is not his child, a suspicion that is undermining his sanity.

When she refuses to admit a sin of which she is not guilty, he reminds her that in doing so she will gain sole control of Bertha’s future. The tables are turned. Now the captain begins to believe that Bertha is not his child and Laura begins to insist that she is. The captain, recalling the circumstances of Bertha’s birth, recollects how a solicitor told Laura that she has no right of inheritance without a child. At that time the captain was ill. When he recovered, Bertha was born.

The captain understands the power his wife holds over him. At first he loved her as he would love a mother; she loathed him after he became her lover. Laura shows him a letter she forged, in which he confesses his insanity, and tells him that she sent the letter to court. Boasting that she employed him only as a breadwinner, she declares that she will use his pension for Bertha’s education. In anger, the captain hurls a lamp at her.

Laura succeeds in locking her husband in another room while she examines his private papers. Although the pastor sees through her scheme, she dares him to accuse her. The doctor arrives with a straitjacket shortly before the captain, armed with literary evidence of cases in which a child’s paternity was questioned, bursts into the room. His talk is so erratic and his raving about conjugal fidelity so wild that when the doctor tells him he is insane, the captain acknowledges his own madness.

Bertha, accusing him of a deliberate attempt to injure her mother, announces that he is not her father if he behaves so badly. The captain, in reply, tells her that her soul is in two parts; one is a reflection of his own, and to preserve it he intends to destroy the part that is not his. He seizes a revolver but finds it empty. Bertha runs out screaming.

Old Margaret soothes the raving man by talking softly to him of his childhood, and when he is off guard she slips the straitjacket on him. Seeing him seated on the sofa, helpless and dejected, Laura nearly repents the course she took as the captain piteously describes his life of torment with mother, wife, and child, all of whom rejected him. After she assures him that Bertha is his own child, the captain, calling to old Margaret for comfort, suffers a stroke. As he lies unconscious, Bertha runs to her mother, who caresses her and calls the girl her own daughter.

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