Inability to Accept Class and Gender Roles

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1904

In his preface to Miss Julie, Strindberg refers to Julie as a "man-hating half woman," and indeed, the playwright draws her as such—though it should be pointed out that Julie despises not only men but women as well Nonetheless, psychologically— considered within the context of her time—Julie is neither wholly male nor wholly female, and she cannot find a place for herself within the social confines of either gender role. In addition, Julie, though an aristocrat by birth, does not fit in with either the upper classes or with the lower. Although she lives in a time during which rigid divisions in class and gender were softening, nineteenth-century Sweden was still a highly structured society with clearly defined class and gender roles. Because Julie cannot distinctly identify with male or female, master or servant, there is no place for her in this world. It is this fact that finally leads to her suicide.

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From the beginning of the play, well before she even sets foot on stage, Julie's class and gender confusion become clear as the servants Jean and Kristine discuss their mistress's idiosyncrasies. Julie's inability to act within the bounds of acceptable female behavior is illustrated by an act Strindberg makes so extreme that it becomes ludicrous: Julie "training" her fiancé by having him jump over her riding crop and striking him each jump. Clearly, Julie desires power over men to a point that is pathological.

Strindberg provides further evidence of Julie's lack of class identity. On one hand, Kristine reveals Julie's extreme anger over her dog's sexual encounter with the gatekeeper's dog, an act that foreshadows Julie's own indiscretion with Jean. On the other hand, Julie has chosen to stay at home and dance with her servants when it would be more appropriate for her to be visiting relatives with her father. "Miss Julie," Jean says, "has too much pride about some things and not enough about others." Jean reveals that Julie's mother was the same way. As he recalls, "the cuffs of her blouse were dirty, but she had to have her coat of arms on her cufflinks." Like her mother, Julie is unrefined, even less refined than her own servants. Jean remarks that Julie "pulled the gamekeeper away from Anna and made him dance with her." Such an act is unheard of in the world of the servants. "We wouldn't behave like that," Jean says.

Julie's inconsistency in matters of class is revealed again when she appears onstage for the first time. When Jean points out that, by dancing with him, she risks losing the respect of her servants, she replies, "As mistress of the house, I honor your dance with my presence!" Yet when Jean says he will act "as [she] orders," Julie replies, "don't take it as an order! On a night like this, we're all just ordinary people having fun, so we'll forget about rank" As much as Julie tries to force a sense of social equality, Strindberg makes it clear that she also demands she respect her position dictates.

In her book Acting Women: Images of Women in Theatre , Lesley Ferris pointed out that Kristine, the cook, acts as a counterpoint to Julie. As Ferris wrote, Kristine "clearly knows her place as a woman and a member of the lower class—waiting on Jean, the footman, and enjoying this subservient position." When Jean asks Kristine if she is angry at him for dancing with Julie when he had promised to dance with her, Kristine tells him, "1 know my place." Jean responds, "You're a sensible girl, .. and you'd make a good wife," a statement that plays up the contrast between Kristine and Julie, who is not sensible and would never make a good wife. Shortly after Julie and Jean return from their dancing, Kristine does the sensible thing; she goes to bed. In contrast, Julie stays up with Jean, telling him the story of a recurring dream, in...

(The entire section contains 4399 words.)

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