Literature Study GuidesMiss JulieSection 1 Opening To Miss Julie And Jean Dancing Summary

Miss Julie | Study Guide

August Strindberg

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Miss Julie | Section 1 (Opening to Miss Julie and Jean Dancing) | Summary

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Miss Julie is a one-act play. For the purpose of summary and analysis, this guide breaks the play into four sections and includes descriptions for each section based on the play's events.

Summary

It is midsummer eve in a country manor house in Sweden. Jean, the valet, and Christine, the cook, two servants in the Count's household, are in the large kitchen discussing their own relationship and commenting on the unusual behavior of Miss Julie, the Count's 25-year-old daughter. Christine is five years older than Jean, who flirts with her and leads her on about their supposed engagement, while she fusses over his elevated tastes and habits. The two judge Miss Julie's behavior that evening. Jean claims never in his life has he "seen anything like it! ... she is crazy tonight." Christine adds that Miss Julie was always wild but is especially out of control since she irrationally broke her engagement recently and mingles with the local population, ignoring society's expectations for a young woman in her position.

Christine prepares a foul-smelling concoction for Miss Julie's pampered dog, Diana, who isn't feeling well. The dog had gotten loose earlier and consorted with mongrels. Jean, still gossiping about Miss Julie with Christine, attributes Miss Julie's wild behavior to her mother's excesses. Miss Julie enters moments later while Jean is putting on airs about his good taste and status. Excited from the festivities, Miss Julie flirts openly with Jean, insisting he dance with her instead of with Christine as promised. Miss Julie acts as if she and Jean were equals rather than respecting his status as a servant.

Analysis

The first section immediately sets up the clash of the three characters who, from the beginning, are in conflict. Jean with his "fancy" French name, which he most likely gave to himself, has aspirations based on some social exposure and training, whereas Christine, five years older, is more traditional and disapproving toward anything that does not mesh with her conservative views. August Strindberg dispenses with many usual dramatic touches from the first sentence of the play. No introduction or sense of gradual presentation of plot or theme, but rather a startlingly abrupt characterization of female irrationality, brings the audience to immediate attention.

Strindberg presents Miss Julie as a woman who is "crazy again; absolutely crazy," her behavior possibly repeating itself each month under the influence of her hormones, a phenomenon that interested Strindberg as a partial explanation of female behavior. Moreover, she is portrayed as someone who has made herself free and available and on the same social level as the farm folk. In the eyes of the servants, who judge by traditional standards, the wild behavior and questionable grooming of Miss Julie's late mother are revealed as examples of the family's instability, imperfection, and lack of refinement. Furthermore, Miss Julie's behavior toward her ex-fiancé characterizes her as someone who wants to dominate—overtly and cruelly—but is not strong enough to do so. Whipping her fiancé into submission, like a dog, caused him to break the whip and leave, rather than be trained to obey. Thus, Miss Julie's cruel arrogance and dislike of men show her desire to dominate but not the force to maintain authority.

The playwright is setting the scene for a clash of gender and classes. He sets a predetermined trap into which Miss Julie will fall—as the servant's suggestions of gossip as well as her own condescension and flippancy foreshadow.

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