Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

In The Ghost Sonata, August Strindberg paints a picture of a fallen world based on illusions and deceptions, where human beings, bound together by a common guilt, are condemned to suffer for their sins. Only by escaping this world can one find peace and happiness. In this world, filled with death and decay, people are not what they seem to be. Under the veneer of respectability lies corruption.

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The world of The Ghost Sonata is moribund, haunted by the presence of death and decrepitude. Signs of death are everywhere. White sheets are hung over the windows; funeral flowers are strewn across the streets; flags are at half-mast; the Student has been handling corpses; characters are in mourning clothes; the Japanese death screen is in view; and the Isle of the Dead appears at the end. Ghosts haunt the streets. The Milkmaid reenacts her drowning; the Dead Consul walks the streets in a winding-sheet. Many of the characters are zombies, often motionless and silent. Hummel is cold because his blood has congealed. The Colonel’s wife has actually turned into a mummy, a preserved corpse. The world is populated by the wounded victims of collapsing houses as well as by the crippled Hummel, the bald and toothless Colonel, the decaying Mummy, and the sick Young Lady. People are stricken with a sense of paralysis and impotence as they enact meaningless and repetitive rituals and wait for death. Strindberg paints a picture of a world that has fallen from grace.

He also shows how this world is built upon illusion and masks. Behind the facade of respectability and beauty lie corruption and ugliness. The charitable Consul is a vain hypocrite who has swindled the state out of fifty thousand pounds. The Aristocrat is a jewel thief, and the Fiancee, a pillar of the church, is a fallen woman. The aristocratic Young Lady is really a scullery maid, with no proper birth certificate. The devoted attendant at Hummel’s funeral is involved in a homosexual liaison with Hummel’s son. The pious priest who delivers a moving eulogy is later caught embezzling. The Colonel is the epitome of a man projecting a false image of himself. He is no more than a kitchen boy passing himself off as an aristocrat; even his daughter is not his own. All the world is filled with illusions. The beautiful girl in the statue is now a mummy. The Student’s dream house is an inferno; the dreamlike Hyacinth Room is disintegrating. The Ghost Sonata is clearly a requiem for a fallen world in which fairy-tale dreams metamorphose into nightmares.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1169

Illusion vs. Reality
Strindberg liked to view himself as a continual seeker of truth, as an artist who could present the sin, suffering and degradation of the world on the stage and unmask all of the world's liars, hypocrites and criminals. Several of his plays attempted to reveal what he felt were the hidden secrets of his society—its institutions and individuals. In a letter to his friend Emil Schering dating March 27, 1907, Strindberg wrote of The Ghost Sonata, "It is horrible, like life, when the veil falls from our eyes and we see things as they are. Secrets like these are to be found in every home. People are too proud to admit it; most of them boast of their imagined luck, and hide their misery.’’

The secrets of The Ghost Sonata are terrible indeed, and they are initially hidden behind an illusion of wealth, nobility and respect, inside the walls of a beautiful house. At the beginning of the play, the Student thinks the house is some kind of paradise. He tells the Old Man,"I often stop to look at it. I passed it yesterday when the sun was shining on the window panes, and I imagined all the beauty and luxury in there.'' He is willing to do anything to get inside,...

(The entire section contains 1602 words.)

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