Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 641
In a life charged with personal and spiritual obsessions, August Strindberg wrote three dozen plays, seven novels, six volumes of essays, three volumes of short stories, and a volume of poems. Most of these works reflect his extensive reading of the Bible, mythology, theosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Emanuel Swedenborg, as well as much else that stimulated his creative impulses. The Ghost Sonata can be grouped with Oväder (1907; Storm, 1913), Brända tomten(1907; After the Fire, 1913), Pelikanen(1907; The Pelican, 1962), and Svarta handsken(1909; The Black Glove, 1916) as the third in a quintet of what Strindberg called chamber plays. The term “chamber play” was a reference to their analogies to musical forms, and they were written for Strindberg’s Intimate Theater in Stockholm. He initially thought The Ghost Supper an appropriate title to evoke the central event of the play, but switched to The Ghost Sonata as proper for a play built around three scenes.
Strindberg preceded and influenced such playwrights as Eugene O’Neill, Samuel Beckett, and Edward Albee in his exploitation of expressionist techniques and in the use of settings, sound effects, and other devices to suggest states of mind. The apparition of the Milkmaid, for instance, prompts a reaction in Hummel that expresses his guilt over the events in Hamburg. For Hummel, the Milkmaid functions much as the Furies do in Greek tragedy, guilty consciences that drive their victims toward expiation. Other examples include the Mummy and the Colonel. The Mummy hides in her closet, dehumanized and reduced by the manipulative Old Man to a mere parrot of a person; the Colonel, with his spurious military title, his wig, and his mustache, collapses as a hollow man under Hummel’s ruthless attack on his puffed-up self. When the Old Man himself is exposed, he succumbs to the Mummy’s parrot speech as a sign of his own spiritual emptiness.
Vampirism and exploitation constitute the main theme of The Ghost Sonata . Johansson says of the Old Man that “he’s like a horse thief, only with people. He steals them, in all kinds of ways.” Hummel rides around, Johansson says, “like the great god Thor,” destroying houses, killing his enemies, and forgiving nothing. In his younger days, he had been a Don Juan who was so clever that he got his women to leave when he had used them up. Hummel knows everyone’s dark secrets, and his corrosive cynicism shows up in his talk about them, as...
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