(Drama for Students)

Gender Roles
Miss Julie's confusion over her sexual identity ultimately leads to her ruin. For Strindberg, men and women have specific roles in society; in the play's preface he describes Julie as a "man-hating half-woman." Julie's problems stem from her heritage as well as the way she was reared. Her mother did not bring Julie up according to accepted standards regarding women's roles; she also believed—incorrectly, Strindberg implies—that men and women are equal. She refused to conform to traditional female roles. At first, she would not marry Julie's father, although she had sexual relations with him, was the mother of his child, and was essentially mistress of his household. In this position, she forced the servants into "unnatural" occupations, with men assigned to traditionally female tasks while women did the work of men. The result was financial ruin. In keeping with this philosophy, Julie was raised as a boy, expected to match or exceed the role of a male child. She was forced to wear boys' clothes, engage in physical chores such as caring for horses, and even go hunting.

In addition to forcing male traits on her daughter, Julie's mother also taught her to despise all men. Julie says she only became engaged so she could make her fiancé her slave, and it is clear that this is what she did, even to the point of making her betrothed jump over her riding crop while whipping him like an animal. When Jean kills Julie's greenfinch, Julie's rage at men is nakedly revealed. "F d like to see your whole sex swimming in a sea of blood," she tells him. The situation is complicated, however, by the fact that Julie despises women as well and blames her father for bringing her up to revile her own sex. Complicating matters is Julie's sexual desire, which forces her to adopt female behavior she abhors and seduce the men she hates. The result, Julie says, is that she is neither fully male nor fully female but has become "half-woman, half-man,'' an unnatural role in which, according to Strindberg, she can never find happiness."

Class Conflict
Much of the action of Miss Julie focuses on the conflict between the upper and lower classes. Both Julie and Jean are dissatisfied with their class positions. Julie, the aristocrat, relates a recurring dream in which she is high atop a...

(The entire section is 952 words.)