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.
The Father is often seen as a tragedy in which larger-than-life characters engage in a life-or-death struggle centered on a family conflict. Like a Greek tragedy, The Father has a tight plot structure, a narrow time frame of twenty-four hours, one locale, and a hint of the fatalistic forces at work behind the scenes. It has often been compared to the story of Agamemnon, who was trapped and killed by his wife Clytemnestra because he had sacrificed their daughter. The Father is also similar to Euripides’ Bakchai (405 b.c.e.; The Bacchae, 1781). In The Bacchae, Pentheus rejects the god Dionysus and his women worshipers the Maenads, only to be torn to pieces by them. In The Father, the Captain rejects feminine forces, both spiritual and physical. Thus, a household of women turns against him and figuratively tears him to pieces. An evil or fatalistic force seems to haunt the house. The Captain senses the web of fate that is being spun around him. His daughter, Bertha, hears maternal ghosts in the attic mourning over a cradle. Bertha’s grandmother, who is antagonistic to her father, warns her that spirits who are ignored seek vengeance.
The Father not only examines the battle of the sexes but questions the patriarchy, the male power structure, by casting doubts on paternity or fatherhood. The Captain wishes to assert his rights as father and husband. He tells his wife that when she married she bartered her rights in exchange for his financial support of her. Marriage, according to the societal order, is an exchange in which the woman agrees to be mastered in order to be supported. Thus, masculine law gives the father the sole right to determine the education of his child. Old Margaret, the Captain’s former nursemaid, argues that a mother has only her child, whereas the father has other pursuits. The Captain, however, insists that his burden is greater than his wife’s because he is responsible for the whole family.
The Captain, a military man who surrounds himself with symbols of masculine power (military tunics, rifles, game bags), represents the power of the patriarchy. However, the play questions the certainty of fatherhood itself. In the very first scene, the Captain tries to get one of his cavalry soldiers to accept the responsibility for impregnating one of the kitchen maids. Nojd admits to having slept with her but implies that there have been others, so that it is impossible to determine who is the father of the child. Nojd feels that it would be drudgery to support another man’s child. His wife, Laura, picks up this issue and notes that if fatherhood cannot be...
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