Literature Study GuidesMiss JulieSection 4 Christines Reappearance To End Summary

Miss Julie | Study Guide

August Strindberg

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Miss Julie | Section 4 (Christine's Reappearance to End) | Summary

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Summary

As Miss Julie halfheartedly considers leaving on her own and dispossessing herself of her painful past, she faces scorn from both Christine and Jean. Jean enters as Christine is getting ready for church, to which Jean has promised to accompany her. Jean looks tired, and Christine intuits what occurred during the night. Disapproving of behavior she deems highly immoral, she refuses to have anything to do with the other two characters; she is angry with Jean and completely disillusioned by Miss Julie. She decides to resign from her employment and presses Jean to do so as well, thinking he could find another position that would allow him to be married.

Christine exits, and Miss Julie enters, ready to leave with Jean, for she fears going on her own. She has enough money for the beginning of the trip. Jean insists they take no luggage, but Miss Julie insists on taking her little pet bird with her, despite Jean's objections. When she says she "would rather see it dead" than to leave it behind, Jean readily obliges her. Ordering her not to make a scene, he tells her she "should have learned how to chop off a chicken's head instead of shooting with a revolver." Then he chops off the bird's head.

Jean's callousness and her grief provoke another outburst from Miss Julie, disgusted by her situation. She has broken into her father's desk and taken money, hence the need for a quick escape before he returns. When Christine enters and realizes the situation, she voices her disapproval and unwaveringly holds to her religion, her "living belief ... and the faith of [her] childhood." She can neither condone nor aid in their plan to flee and invites Miss Julie to think about faith and God's forgiveness.

Knowing the Count will return momentarily, Jean blames Miss Julie for the delay in parting and gives her no help when she asks if he sees "any way out—any end to this?" However, he hints he does know a way out, and Miss Julie immediately picks up the razor he used to kill her bird. She says she cannot do what her father could not do—commit suicide—and Jean says her father needed to avenge himself first on his mother, who did kill herself. Now Miss Julie's mother "revenges herself again through" her daughter.

Moments before the bell rings announcing the Count's return, Miss Julie reveals her conflicted feelings about her father and about men and women in general. From her mother she learned to scorn men, and from her father she learned to scorn women. She has no independent being of her own, composed as she sees herself from her father's thoughts, her mother's passions, and her scorned fiancé's inability to dominate or be dominated. She concludes that her parents "made me half man, half woman."

When Jean becomes the subservient valet once more, obeying the Count's orders, Miss Julie asks him to hypnotize her into using the razor on herself, for Jean, in servant mode, has lost his direct command. He does hypnotize her in a way—he puts the razor back in her hand, and encourages her to go to the hayloft. The play ends with Jean answering the bell and Miss Julie, razor in hand, heading out to the hayloft.

Analysis

Miss Julie cannot flee. Her insistence on taking the bird is an unnecessary encumbrance, and anyone who really wanted to leave would not insist on traveling with it—especially on a budget. This is another plot device that enables Jean to take the first step toward Miss Julie's physical destruction. Furthermore, she is appalled at the prospect of becoming a partner to the theft of her father's money to finance her flight, and the nonsensical plan to run a hotel is a kind of desperate hallucination in which she would be demeaned to "share with my cook and be the rival of my own servant" for the affections of another servant. And what an object of affection he has turned out to be. He has just decapitated a helpless bird more out of spite than necessity.

Jean and Miss Julie have destroyed all the ground they formerly lived on, and the same razor used to sacrifice the bird becomes the prop they debate about while waiting to face their fate. Jean uses the power of suggestion in his stronger will to command Miss Julie to save herself from facing the unseen force of her father. His return to the scene as announced by the ringing of the dreaded bell is the sound Jean uses to send Miss Julie to her own end. The audience believes she kills herself rather than face her future, leaving Jean to face his own future with the sound of the Count's bell ringing in his doom to live forever as a menial valet.

Just as the scene of Jean and Miss Julie having sex in the bedroom is not shown, the ringing of the bell when the Count returns is only heard. Both events serve to change the course of the play. In this section, the Count's unseen male presence overpowers both Jean and Miss Julie in its unchanging strength to move people to action. When Christine delivers her religious platitudes, she speaks with all the power of the past that August Strindberg hated from childhood. His art in all its directions of visual, linguistic, pictorial, scientific, journalistic, and personal was focused away from such a limiting and provincial view. It is sufficient for Christine but for no one else, for Miss Julie and Jean are caught in the modern struggle of wills for which Strindberg enlisted his forces and efforts. However, another way to interpret Christine's strength of will is that she derives it from faith, which the others lack. Yet Strindberg was more interested in psychology and determinism than in religion.

Strindberg's study of late 19th-century psychology and emerging psychiatry was strongly influenced by the theories of the French neurologist Hippolyte Bernheim (1840–1919), with whom the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) studied. In the absence of real hypnosis or hypnotic states, the will can serve as a distant but determining force to compel action, as shown in the "Bernheimian suggestion" scene of Miss Julie in which Jean's orders and the ringing of the Count's bell lead Miss Julie inexorably to suicide. Jean, having no knowledge of hypnosis and thinking it more a theatrical or parlor trick, follows Miss Julie's suggestion and exerts his will upon her.

Strindberg removed all limitations from his female characters, such as Miss Julie, who casts aside her former self and the expectations of others. She has become undone—in contemporary terms, perhaps has a nervous breakdown. She cannot escape the consequences of who she is and of her shame—according to Victorian morality—as well as the uncertainties of her role as a "new," less eccentric person interacting with men. Strindberg felt compelled to give women the option of self-destruction as a final step of derangement. He could not easily live with a new woman's power, but according to his beliefs in the need for radical changes in society, he could not retreat and live without it. In an extreme sense, having Miss Julie take her own life could have been a projection onto the character of an action he considered his own extreme end: "Instead of committing suicide himself, he had Julie do it."

Jean does not have to make Miss Julie "crazy again," for she is already unbalanced. But his male sexual presence is the testing ground on which the battle of wills and the need for a balance are played out. Although Strindberg wanted to liberate people from past ignorance and broaden all avenues of experience and knowledge, neither Miss Julie nor Jean is an exemplar of the type of person who might live such a creative existence. Miss Julie is an early play in which Strindberg tries to imagine a new type of enlightened existence. With everything stripped away from an almost bare stage, it is extreme scientific realism at a fever pitch. Nothing is shown, but everything indicates that the characters are brought to the edge of their beings. Two rather ordinary characters are permitted to survive, but the most dangerous one in her pseudo-liberated femininity would have no place in a world that the struggling Strindberg could ever portray himself inhabiting without madness.

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