Themes in Strindberg's Miss Julie

The notion of degenerate women is one major theme of the play Miss Julie. Strindberg has been charged with misogyny. His view of women is inconsistent and contradictory. Of all the authors of the 19th century shocked by the wave of emerging feminism he was one of them. He was seriously disturbed by feminism. To him, feminism was a source of imminent danger.

August Strindberg (1849 -1912)

His response to feminism is unqualified. His attitude to women awake to feminism is tainted with hostile remarks. Feminism does not produce a progressive woman. Women, according to Strindberg, do not get the better chance to evolve due to the movement of feminism. Rather, they become degenerate. The playwright assumed that the feminism introduces decadence in the consciousness of women. In an endeavor to become exactly like men they (who are poisoned by feminism) become half-women. They become neither a complete women, nor exactly like men. Hence, they come across a retrogressive step in the process of their evolution trapped in this retrogressive step, they develop several kinds of sickness like hysteria and mania. Consequent they become a degenerate woman. Miss Julie is presented as a degenerate woman in the play.  Owing to her feminist upbringing, she failed to become positive towards men. She developed disgusting and fascinating relationships towards men. She, as a result, became a victim of her own flawed constitution. According to the dramatist, she fell prey to the delusions and conditions of her age.

The next theme of prime importance in Miss Julie is class and gender conflict. There are several examples of class and gender conflict in the play. As a member of an aristocratic family Julie wants to assert a sort of authority over Jean. But this endeavor of Julie collapsed because Jean was far more superior to her in terms of intellect and imagination. Jean hopes to elevate his status by sleeping with Julie. But this hope of Jean failed because Julie was penniless. As a masculine figure Jean seeks to establish dominance over Julie. Thinking that the sexual intercourse, with her means a permanence dominance on her, Jean begins to degrade her. On the basis of her awakened consciousness, she hesitates to give Jean more than a position a slave deserves. These kinds of clash at implicit and explicit level prepared the ground for open gender and class conflict. At the level of class, the clash between Jean and Julie is the clash between the master and the slave, the aristocrat and the lower class worker and between the inferior and superior class. At the level of gender the clash between Jean and Julie is equivalent to the clash between powerful man (however inferior) and a degenerate woman (though she) belongs to superior class.

The problem of idealization and degradation is another theme of Strindberg's Miss Julie. We have known that Strindberg's view on women is tainted with the charge of misogyny. His view sounds contradictory. He has upheld an inconsistent view as far as women are concerned. As an author he simultaneously idealized and degraded woman. Even his personal opinion expressed elsewhere stands as a living proof of his ambivalent attitude towards women. To Strindberg these opposite impulses are two sides of the same coin. Jean at once worships and scorns Miss Julie. Early in the play, he describes her as both crude and beautiful. In the story of the Turkish pavilion, Young Jean must flee an outhouse through the bottom and, emerging from his master's waste, sees Julie. He falls in love with her on the spot, but then she raises her skirt to use the outhouse, and he sees her in a compromising position. On top of Jean's initial love comes revulsion. The image of Julie strolling amidst the roses is degraded by the image of her going to the bathroom.