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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 346

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.

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