Literature Study GuidesMiss JulieSection 3 Reappearance From Bedroom To Next Morning Summary

Miss Julie | Study Guide

August Strindberg

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Miss Julie | Section 3 (Reappearance from Bedroom to Next Morning) | Summary

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Summary

As soon as the chorus leaves, Miss Julie and Jean reappear from Jean's bedroom. Miss Julie checks her appearance, and Jean is in high spirits. Fearing for their reputations, Jean already seems to have a plan for their "escape" to Switzerland or the Italian lakes where they will open a first-class hotel and Jean will rise in status. When Miss Julie asks him to treat her less formally, he tells her he cannot do so as long as they are in her father's house. Jean gives a long description of his subservient behavior in the presence of the Count and the desire to break with that past now that he has "conquered" her. Miss Julie naively expects a declaration of love, but Jean seems more concerned with how they can finance their flight. In fact, he makes a veiled threat. If she will not or cannot finance their escape and his ambitions, then all remains as it was—he as her father's valet and she as a compromised woman, the object of scorn.

He demonstrates more, if petty, dishonesty by opening the Count's wine, which Miss Julie refuses to drink. He taunts her by saying she is now in his class and confesses his previous romantic stories were invented to seduce her, and their success is to his credit. They quarrel bitterly. As a love interest, Miss Julie is less attractive to Jean because she fell into his will so easily.

Miss Julie finally faces the truth of her family's social and economic disgrace as she narrates the story of her mother's infidelity, her family's financial situation, and the gender-flexible way Miss Julie was raised to avoid a single identity. Her mother came from a lower social status than her father and was opposed in principle to both marriage and childbearing. Miss Julie was given masculine activities so she could achieve a "perfectly natural state" equal with all men. Her mother's odd behavior included having a lover and burning down the family estate. Her father had to borrow money to rebuild it, but Miss Julie says the funds actually came from her mother's lover. Her father vowed revenge for this humiliation but was never able to take any. Thus, Miss Julie was raised with her mother's hatred for all men and her father's frustrated wishes to punish women.

Then Miss Julie states outright that she promised her mother "never to be a man's slave." Jean feels increasing contempt for her, now totally weak and debased in his eyes, and he taunts her by revealing he knows the truth of her broken engagement. With her spirit broken, Miss Julie becomes dependent on Jean, who scorns her, the weakness of her class, and her inability to live as if nothing happened. He tells her she must run away on her own, for she has disgraced herself with him.

Analysis

This section in the play is the strongest example of the battle, really a war to the death, that August Strindberg characterized as the male and female dynamic. He had difficulties all his life with women's behavior and desires, finding in his marriages and relationships great trouble achieving a balance of power. He distrusted any display of independence or power from women since he viewed it as being at the expense of men. Yet he believed women should be independent. In this case, the ease with which Jean seduces Miss Julie dampens his desire for her.

Women inspired Strindberg's works but threatened to break free of his control, and his often-expressed need for continual sexual excess was linked to his creativity. In his diaries and autobiographical writings, he links his highest creative achievements with his greatest fulfilled passions. When celibate, he claims he could not write at all and feared impotency. Miss Julie does not contain specific sexual details, but in the late 19th century, it was already controversial to speak of women's hormones and include even offstage sexual relations, which are part of the action of the play. Every coupling to Strindberg seemed a battle for dominance of one will over the other, and every attraction immediately became a war zone of sorts where passion mixed with frustration and insecurity. These notions inform the postcoital battling between Jean and Miss Julie.

Needing and craving the presence of women, Strindberg was directly threatened by not knowing their reactions to his domineering nature. He wrote copiously about liberating women from domestic duties and expectations but feared the results when society would have a new, dangerous, and unknown structure outside his control. In Miss Julie he shows characters either clinging to the past, as Christine does, or breaking though barriers and smashing limitations as they struggle for dominance of the will but enter unknown territory in doing so, as Miss Julie tries to do. Jean seems able to straddle the line as it suits him, taking advantage of both positions.

From the first lines of the play, Miss Julie appears as someone in peril of falling into madness, but she is also linked to male behavior both in her own family and by someone living in her household as a servant capable of upending the order of the home. Having pulverized the barriers between them in Scandinavia, Jean proposes to take her to more liberated Italy. However, both are unprepared for any true liberation and would merely play out their adversarial roles once again. The struggle for social, personal, economic, and sexual dominance itself remained with Strindberg from his early life to the last affairs he had when he returned to Sweden. His mania for the modern and creative ran far ahead of the actual sense of happiness any relation ever provided, since he continued to fight dominance by modern liberated women at the same time as he dedicated himself to envisioning, creating, and portraying them.

Noteworthy, too, is the continuing class struggle. Despite Jean's big ego and new lack of interest in Miss Julie because of the ease in seducing her, another driving force is economic: Miss Julie has no money of her own. For the ever-practical Jean, such a loss is significant, for there is no way to realize his ambition.

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