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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 346

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The Father is a naturalistic, psychological drama. August Strindberg’s play, first performed in 1890, chronicles the mental deterioration of the main character, the Captain. Challenged by his wife and daughter, the Captain loses his patriarchal control of their household (if indeed he ever had it), and his wife’s betrayal and daughter’s rejection combine to push him over the brink into a stroke and mental collapse. Rather than paint the Captain as an untarnished hero, however, Strindberg inserts all the characters into a network of evil that verges on fatalism. All the characters are flawed, and none escapes unharmed from the negative effects of a deeply patriarchal social structure.

Strindberg created no completely sympathetic characters, but the combined forces of the women and the underhanded tactics Laura deploys to unhinge her husband make the females seem reprehensible. Overall, the strong impression of misogyny is not dispelled by the male characters’ often equally discreditable behavior. In many respects, “society” itself, especially the militarized, male-dominant society of Strindberg’s era, is the villain. The elements of fierce social critique, in fact, contributed to the play’s premiering in Germany, as Strindberg could secure no Swedish venue willing to produce it.

The overarching question, that of fatherhood, is centralized in Laura, the Captain’s wife, who taunts him about their daughter’s paternity. Because her husband was ill while she was pregnant, she capitalizes on his lack of precise knowledge about Bertha’s conception. Not knowing is more than her husband can take, and he rejects their daughter as not his own. In turn, Bertha rejects him as her father, distressing him so much that he declares his homicidal intentions.

Ultimately, the Captain is entirely defeated, and more child than father. The tragic outcome is only partly softened by the unflattering characteristics with which Strindberg endows him; the audience would be hard-pressed to feel sympathy for this petty despot. Although the play falls within realistic conventions, the question of mental stability hovering over all the proceedings matches the gloomy atmosphere of the home, thus resonating with Romantic conventions.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 322

Captain’s house

Captain’s house. Home of a Swedish cavalry officer and amateur scientist. The stage directions at the beginning of act 1 indicate that the captain tries to use the sitting room as his office or private study. He has his guns and gamebags hanging on the wall and uniform coats hanging on clothes-pegs by the door. However, the fact that the room is not his private domain is immediately suggested by the presence of a large round table strewn with newspapers and magazines and, more especially, by the fact that three doors give access to other parts of the ground floor. The stage directions call for a door in the background to the right, a private door in the right-hand corner, and a door to the inner rooms to the left.

The women obviously do not regard the captain’s sitting room as a private inner sanctum. The captain’s wife, his daughter Bertha, and the nurse all enter without knocking. The captain is also within earshot of female squabbling, including the screams of his deranged mother-in-law, through the door leading to the inner rooms. As the curtain rises on act 2, and then again on act 3, the viewer sees exactly the same setting, and this reinforces the impressions of the monotony of the captain’s domestic life and the fact that he is a helpless prisoner in his own home. As the pastor says in act 1, “There are too many women here governing the house,” to which the captain replies, “Yes, aren’t there? It is like going into a cage full of tigers.” Strindberg’s choice of the place for his drama helps to emphasize his misogynistic message that the captain, like many other married men, is a victim. He is like a prisoner or like a soldier desperately holding out in a last crumbling redoubt. He has no privacy or peace of mind even in his own home.


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Brustein, Robert. “Male and Female in August Strindberg.” In Modern Drama: Essays in Criticism, edited by Travis Bogard. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. Focuses on Strindberg’s paradoxical view of masculine and feminine as reflected in several of his major plays, including The Father. Discusses Strindberg’s early misogynist views and his recurring fascination with the so-called war between the sexes. Explanatory notes.

Dahlstrom, Carl E. W. L. “Strindberg’s The Father as Tragedy.” Scandinavian Studies 27, no. 2 (May, 1955): 45-63. Discusses the classical form and structure of both Greek and Shakespearean tragedy. Contends that The Father might not be a tragedy in the classical sense, but that it is a revolt against the mechanistic perspective and therefore, might be the only type of tragedy possible in a mechanistic universe.

Lagercrantz, Olof. August Strindberg. Translated by Anselm Hollo. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984. Discusses relevant biographical information concerning many of Strindberg’s major plays, including The Father. Useful in understanding and interpreting Strindberg’s work, which many critics assert is largely autobiographical.

Lyons, Charles R. “The Archetypal Action of Male Submission in Strindberg’s The Father.” Scandinavian Studies 36, no. 3 (August, 1964): 218-232. Asserts that the model(s) for male submission within The Father might be found in such ancient myths as those of Adam and Eve, Samson and Delilah.

Valency, Maurice. The Flower and the Castle: An Introduction to Modern Drama. New York: Macmillan, 1963. A comprehensive discussion of Strindberg’s major plays and his contribution to modern theater. Subject index and selected bibliography.


Critical Essays