Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482
In literature, a symbol is something that represents something else, and is often used to communicate deeper levels of meaning. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel The Scarlet Letter, for example, the red letter ''A'' worn by Hester Prynne is a symbol not only of her supposed crime (adultery), but also of her neighbors' bigotry and her own courageous pride. Strindberg incorporates many symbols into The Ghost Sonata in order to communicate deeper levels of meaning to his audiences. Consider the importance of the Old Man's wheelchair, the Girl's hyacinth flowers, and the pendulum clock as symbols in the play. What might each one represent? How are they viewed by different characters? How do they affect your understanding of the plot of the play? What are some of the play's other important symbols and how are they used?
The form of The Ghost Sonata is modeled after a particular type of chamber music. A ''sonata'' is a three- or four-part composition that consists of independent movements that vary in key, mood and tempo. Typically the first section of a sonata is exposition, in which a theme is introduced, followed by a section that develops the theme, and ending in a recapitulation of the theme. Listen to one of Mozart's many piano or violin sonatas, Haydn's sonata number 19 in D-major, or Beethoven's D-minor piano sonata and determine ways in which Strindberg's play is constructed like this chamber music form. Consider the number of scenes and the flow of action in The Ghost Sonata, as well as the play's themes and the way they are woven into the plot and ''recapitulated'' near the end.
A ''motif" is a theme or an idea that occurs again and again in a work of art. In The Ghost Sonata, death seems to be a dominant motif. What are the many ways that death is discussed, or that images of death appear in the play? What message or messages regarding death do you suppose the playwright is trying to communicate to his audience?
Several characters in The Ghost Sonata are referred to simply by descriptive titles instead of proper names. Why do you suppose Strindberg chose to call some of the most important characters in the play ''The Student,'"'The Old Man," ‘‘The Milkmaid," "The Colonel,’’ and ‘‘The Girl,'' instead of giving them individual names? How does this affect the way you view the characters? Would you prefer that they be called by proper names? Why/why not?
The Ghost Sonata has often been compared to absurdist plays of the mid-twentieth century. Read a play by the famous absurdist author Samuel Beckett, such as Waiting for Godot (1952) or Endgame (1958). How are the characters in each play alike? How does each play view serious subjects like human relationships and death? Can you find examples of humor appearing in unlikely places in both plays? What effect does this have?