Miss Julie Summary
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Miss Julie is an 1888 naturalistic play by Swedish playwright and novelist August Strindberg. Set on the estate of a count in Sweden, Miss Julie is a young woman who is attracted to a valet named Jean. The naive Julie is fascinated by the well-traveled and well-read Jean, but he is already engaged to a servant named Christine. The main action of the play takes place in the kitchen of the manor where Miss Julie lives with her father. Over the course of the story, the passion escalates between Miss Julie and Jean, until Jean’s character takes a darker turn and Julie finds herself battling for her life in a psychological battle of wills. The primary theme of the play is Darwinism, a common theme in the Naturalistic Period, as the aristocratic Julie battles against the fast-climbing and ruthless Jean. The play also explores themes of class warfare and the lingering effects of family trauma. Like in many of Strindberg’s works, the characters are complex and multi-layered. Miss Julie is considered a classic of Swedish literature, and has been consistently staged since its debut, being given several movie adaptations as well. It has also been adapted into operatic productions.
Miss Julie opens with Jean walking onstage into the manor’s kitchen. He is a valet. Jean meets with his fiancée, Christine, and talks to her about Miss Julie’s odd behavior. He thinks she’s insane ever since she came to the barn dance, danced with the gamekeeper, and then attempted to dance with him despite Jean only being a servant of the court. Christine talks about Miss Julie’s background, how she was unable to face her family after breaking off her engagement. She stayed behind and mingled with the servants rather than going with her father to the Midsummer’s Eve celebration with the other nobles. They discuss the incident that led to the breakup of Miss Julie’s engagement, a strange incident where her fiancé refused to jump over a riding whip at her command. Jean describes it as similar to training a dog to jump through a hoop.
Jean takes out a bottle of wine, and he and Christine flirt. Noticing a nasty odor, Jean asks Christine what she’s cooking. She is making a drug designed to induce abortion for Miss Julie’s dog, which was impregnated by a servant’s dog. The two discuss Miss Julie further, with Christine finding her both too stuck-up in some ways and not proud enough in others. She compares Miss Julie to her mother. Despite this, Jean finds Miss Julie beautiful, but also sees her as a useful stepping-stone to his lifelong quest to own an inn of his own. Miss Julie appears and asks Christine if the drug has finished cooking. Jean’s demeanor changes, and he becomes charming and polite.
As they greet each other, Miss Julie asks Jean again if he would like to dance. He hesitates, because he’s promised Christine a dance and worries that gossip will be caused by dancing with her. Miss Julie pulls rank, insisting she is the lady of the house and must have the best dancer waltz with her. He agrees, and they leave. When they return, Miss Julie recounts a dream of climbing up a pillar and finding herself stuck on top. Jean responds by telling her of the time he snuck into her walled garden as a child, which he compares to the Garden of Eden, and staring at her from afar. He claims to have been filled with unrequited love, and wished he could die rather than live knowing he could never be with her due to their difference in ranks.
Jean and Miss Julie overhear some servants mocking them, not knowing they’re listening. The two of them hide in Jean’s room. Although Jean promises to be respectful of Miss Julie, it soon becomes clear that they have had sex. Julie is confused and not sure how to proceed, and Jean tells her they can no longer live together because they’ll be tempted to continue their relationship until they’re caught. He confesses he was lying when he said he wished he could die rather than not be with her. Angrily, Miss Julie tells him she’s submissive to no man. They decide to run away to start a hotel together. Miss Julie steals money from her father, but Jean becomes angry when she insists on taking her little bird along. She sees it as the only creature that truly loves her, and when she says that she’d rather kill the bird than give it to strangers, Jean cuts its head off.
Jean and Miss Julie are startled when Christine walks in and sees them in their planning. Miss Julie asks her to come along as the head of the kitchen in their hotel, but Christine is angered and refuses. Christine, who is headed for church, tells Miss Julie about God and forgiveness then leaves, saying she’ll tell the stablemasters to keep the horses inside so the two of them cannot run off. Soon, they receive word that the Count has returned. Both of them lose their courage and decide they can’t go ahead with their plans. Miss Julie becomes distraught and realizes she has nothing to her name. She asks Jean if he has a way out for her, and he hands her a razor. The play ends with Miss Julie walking out the door, apparently to commit suicide.
August Strindberg was a noted naturalist playwright, novelist, poet, essayist, and painter. Known for his emotionally complex tragedies, he was a very prolific author with his novel The Red Room being considered the first modern Swedish novel. He is known as the father of modern Swedish literature. Writing hundreds of plays, novels, and collections in his life, several endure, including Master Olof and The Father. A vocal advocate of naturalism, science, and socialism, and of such causes as women’s suffrage, he is widely honored in Sweden, with his house serving as a museum to his life today.
The plot combines sexual and social clashes. Miss Julie is the 25-year-old daughter of the widowed landowner of a large estate in the Swedish countryside. Her father’s weak nature has taught her to despise men; her emancipated mother taught her to dominate and tyrannize them; her former fiance filled her with egalitarian notions that temper her arrogance; her strong libido checks her masculine inclination; her unconscious drives lead her toward dirt, degradation, and death.
The action has Julie flirt with and erotically provoke her father’s valet, 30-year-old Jean, in the festive atmosphere of Midsummer’s Eve. The dramatic design is that of a neatly executed crossover: Julie the social aristocrat condescends to Jean the upstart social slave; conversely, Jean becomes her sexual master; they meet on the leveling grounds of seduction, in the arms of that great equalizer, sex. The materialistic Jean then suggests that they avoid scandal at home by fleeing to Switzerland and running a hotel at Lake Como. However, the 35-year-old cook Kristin, engaged to Jean, prevents the lovers from leaving before the return of Julie’s absent father.
In a conclusion open to contrasting interpretations, the desperate Julie begs Jean to order her to slash her throat. He puts the razor in her hand, and she “walks firmly out through the door,” on her way to suicide. From a naturalistic perspective, her end signifies his triumph; he has defeated her...
(The entire section is 527 words.)