Literature Study GuidesMiss JulieSection 2 Pantomime To Ballet Summary

Miss Julie | Study Guide

August Strindberg

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Miss Julie | Section 2 (Pantomime to Ballet) | Summary

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Summary

As the violin music that accompanies the dancing outside is heard offstage, Christine silently—in pantomime—goes about her kitchen tasks and fixes her hair. When Jean returns, he and Christine talk more of Miss Julie's "craziness." Christine assures Jean she is not angry with him for dancing with Miss Julie, as he claims he was "led by the forelock."

When Miss Julie enters, looking for Jean, Christine informs her that she and Jean are engaged, just as Miss Julie was. Miss Julie then engages Jean in a rudimentary French conversation, Jean having learned some French in Switzerland. As Miss Julie flirts, Jean behaves humbly, showing he knows his place. He follows Miss Julie's lead and kisses her shoe when asked to. Each relates a dream: Miss Julie's of falling from a high pillar and Jean's of climbing to the top of a tree. Christine, in the meanwhile, has fallen asleep. Emboldened, Jean then tells of his childhood.

He narrates a story about seeing Miss Julie as a child and falling in love with her in the estate garden, which he calls the Count's "Garden of Eden." There with his mother to weed onions, he sees what he thinks is a "Turkish pavilion." The structure, with its decorated walls and red curtains, attracts his attention, and he explores around it. However, the building is an outhouse. When someone approaches to use it as intended, the boy senses his shame and is trapped, literally, in the bowels of the land beneath the building. To avoid being caught, Jean explains, "There was only one way out for fine people, but for me there was another." Jean was obliged to escape through the dirt at the bottom of the outhouse, lower himself into the filth, and run off. Ill smelling and foul, he saw "a pink dress and pair of white stockings" on Miss Julie, while he lay in the weeds unable to show himself. To a poor child like Jean, she was a vision of something unattainable: "Oh, a dog may lie on her ladyship's sofa ... but [not] a servant," he seductively tells her.

They realize they are becoming involved in each other's confidences, especially on the night of midsummer, the longest day of the year, when odd occurrences can be expected. As talk veers toward bed and sleep, they hear the noise of a chorus sung by the local population. The lyrics are suggestive references to Jean and Miss Julie. The incident frightens Jean but emboldens Miss Julie, who naively and arrogantly, thinks her behavior is accepted because the people love her. When Jean informs her of the opposite, telling her "they take your food and spit upon your kindness," Miss Julie becomes frightened. Jean assures her of his protection, and she goes with him to his room, supposedly for safety at the moment. As they leave together, the farm folk, who make up the chorus, enter the kitchen, pour themselves some homemade brew, and continue their revelry.

Analysis

In the brief and abbreviated time frame of the play, not a second is lost to drive Miss Julie into Jean's arms and bed. Her constant flirting and teasing will have repercussions to be clarified in the battle of wills and desires that has already begun. She may seem to have the upper hand in their discourse, but he is manipulating her and telling her suggestive stories and incidents that reveal his ability to dominate their "dance" of courtship. His false humility and her false egalitarianism, or belief in political and social equality for all people, are bound to conflict. If Miss Julie is naive and free-spirited, Jean is equally calculating and directed.

As the object of Miss Julie's "slumming," Jean remains a servant in his own mind. And as a highly ambitious servant, with visions of advancement, he is concerned with his own reputation, not Miss Julie's, for she is already the object of widespread gossip. Articulate and intuitive, he displays a superficial gallantry that audiences soon recognize as hypocritical. He is condescending toward Christine, whose status as his fiancée is questionable. Indeed, their relationship seems more like lighthearted, flirtatious teasing than a serious commitment on Jean's part. With Christine, however, it is more difficult to tell. She most likely takes the engagement seriously, but the implication is that she does indeed understand what Jean is all about, and with that understanding, she may well have her doubts. With Miss Julie he is calculatingly humble at this point. He seems cautious in allowing Miss Julie to think she is the one seducing him, but in fact he has manipulated her all along. The audience will come to know the truth of his stories and will see the true baseness of his character.

The appearance of the "mob" is the playwright's convenient contrivance to move the action, and there is little action in Miss Julie as compared with more traditional Realist drama. The play's development, or conflict, unfolds through dialogue, much of which is fragmented memories and dreams. Indeed, Miss Julie's dream is of falling, whereas Jean's is of rising. Miss Julie will fall, but Jean, despite his attempt to "rise," will remain where he is.

Miss Julie acts and speaks as someone who thinks she has broken the mold of passive female behavior and has challenged the status quo, but in fact she is still deeply confused and vulnerable. While enacting something of a drama in her own mind wherein she dominates those around her, she is completely naive about her own future and the consequences of her acts. With her lack of self-awareness, as opposed to Jean's surplus of it, she blindly allows herself to act dangerously with no one but him to help her in what may be her uncertain future. Jean's servant status marks him as lower class, but his ability to grasp a situation and use it to his advantage far outweighs Miss Julie's adolescent rebelliousness and egalitarianism. From his status in life and his upbringing, Jean knows himself and his place; from hers, Miss Julie knows neither.

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