Miss Julie | Study Guide

August Strindberg

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Miss Julie | Symbols

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"Garden of Eden" Park

In the course of his seduction of Miss Julie, Jean narrates a romantic story of his long-suppressed desires. From his miserably poor hovel on the grounds of the estate, he supposedly saw Miss Julie and other upper-class children. Going so far as to call the area a "Garden of Eden," naturally beautiful and unattainable, he elaborates with a fanciful account of being there one day to "weed the onion beds." The weeds, living in the garden, can be considered symbols of imperfection in nature and creation, like Jean himself infiltrating the Edenic scene.

What he takes for a "Turkish pavilion" attracts him for its supposed elegance and decorations, "the walls covered with pictures of kings and emperors, and the windows ... hung with red, fringed curtains." However, the building is an outhouse, decorated elaborately to cover its basic function. When someone approaches it for that reason, the young Jean senses his shame and is trapped, literally, in the bowels of the land. To avoid being caught on the grounds, Jean explains, "There was only one way out for fine people, but for me there was another." Jean (perhaps then called by his real Swedish name) was obliged to escape through the dirt at the bottom of the outhouse, lower himself into the dirt and excrement, 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 stinging weeds unable to show himself.

He is symbolic of his class at that time, trapped in their poverty and low positions, she in her pink-and-white purity, a symbol of what was denied the poor. However, given her adult self, she is also a symbol of the falseness of an upbringing that was anything but pure and pristine. Thus, the pavilion itself and what it stands over are memorable symbols of Strindberg's judgment on society and its pretensions: high-born people and excrement.

The Count, Bell, and Boots

Jean cannot free himself from his position because of his upbringing and the ingrained nature of his existence as a servant, waiting on the needs of a powerful but unseen force of privilege and domination. That the Count is unseen is not incidental.

The objects that symbolize his dominion are his boots and the bell. Christine mumbles in her sleep about polishing the boots, and they define Jean's position in the household. They gleam and shine but need constant care to remove the grime of nature and dirt of life, like the dirty cuffs on Miss Julie's mother's clothing. Tending to the boots defines Jean: "It's my work, which I am bound to do." It is impossible for Jean to free himself from cleaning the aristocracy's dirt, just as it is impossible for him to ignore the summons of the bell, to which his reactions are now instinctive. He explains, "If I only hear that bell up there, I jump like a shy horse ... When I see his boots standing there so stiff and perky, it is as if something made my back bend."

Aside from the obvious sexual imagery of dominance and repression attached to the male boot symbol, the bell that rings to bring the play to an end can represent the forces of tradition and upbringing that condition human nature to react as a trained animal would, while the sadomasochism of the boots as an image crushes unformed human rebellion under the heel. "Yes, your lordship ... yes, yes ... If he should tell me to cut my own throat, I'd do it on the spot ... But it isn't only the bell—there is something behind it," Julie, as the mouthpiece for the symbol, says. That something is the force of time and conditioning. The bell "rings and rings, until you answer it," and its compulsion to tend to the boots leads Jean to take the razor previously used on the bird, a captive like Miss Julie, and to use his power of suggestion to compel her to end her life herself.

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