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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Father has often been called a modern Greek tragedy and compared to Euripides’s Bacchae, in which characters are literally torn to pieces. In August Strindberg’s play, however, the characters destroy each other psychologically. The main character is the Captain, who attempts to rule a female-dominated household. The central issue of what constitutes fatherhood, as contrasted to biological paternity, concerns all the characters in some way.

The Captain, a proud military man, is a cavalry commander. His pride includes his role as patriarch, attempting to rule his daughter, Bertha; his wife, Laura; and his former nurse, Margaret. Through the course of the play, his role as father slips from his grasp as he regresses to a childlike state through physical and mental collapse, thus becoming dependent on the women.

Bertha, the Captain’s daughter, wants to leave home to study, as her father suggests, and comes into conflict with her mother over this impending decision. She later changes sides and rejects him as a father based on his behavior, regardless of biology. This reversal triggers the final onset of madness, indicated by his declared intent to kill her.

Laura, the Captain’s wife, is also the Pastor’s sister. Highly critical of her husband and resentful of his attitude of ruthless control, she attempts to thwart all his plans in a ruthless campaign involving Bertha’s paternity. She first challenges it to destabilize his mind, then affirms it to secure her hold on Bertha’s inheritance.

Margaret, the Captain’s old nurse, is a surrogate mother figure who comforts the defeated Captain.

Emma, the housemaid, is pregnant. The question of the unborn child’s paternity sets the ball rolling for the larger questions of fatherhood.

Dr. Östermark, the doctor in the village, tells Laura of his suspicions about the Captain’s declining mental health. Once convinced of the Captain’s madness, he also finalizes his defeat by bringing a straitjacket to confine him.

The Pastor, Laura’s brother, is asked to counsel Njold on the paternity issues. His agreement with the young man and suspicions about Laura’s motive and actions create a rift between them.

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