Analysis of Strindberg's Miss Julie
The Representations of “Miss Julie”
Miss Julie” is a drama written in 1888 by August Strindberg as a response from an unbecoming critical analysis by Emile Zola for a prior drama (Sprinchorn, 119). Strindberg subtitled “Miss Julie” as “A Naturalistic Tragedy” which did not sit well with many critics and authors of the time. The reason for using the naturalistic elements in the drama were to ensure that his drama would get the recognition he believed it deserved, but what is discovered is that “Miss Julie” is not as naturalistic as Strindberg argued. What is naturalistic structure in a drama, and how does it fit or not fit into the plot of “Miss Julie?” The first step is to decide of a definition for naturalism. Then it is necessary to compare the drama with the definition to see of the critical theory of naturalism is an effect way to analyze “Miss Julie.”
Naturalism has many definitions, as each playwright that used its techniques molded it to conform to their dramas. Zola was considered the definitive authority on the theory of naturalism (Sprinchorn, 119). However, it will be more productive to consolidate several ideals of this theory to ensure that the broadest definition is used for analysis. First of all, the concept of naturalism believes that each individual is created by their heredity and environment (Esslin, 69; Greenwald, Schultz, & Pomo, 841: Sprinchorn, 122 & 124; Templeton, 470). The second part of the definition is the use of actuality within the drama by the actors, with sets and props, and the truth in the plot (Esslin, 69; Greenwald, Schultz, & Pomo, 841: Sprinchorn, 122). From these two parts of the definition, the naturalistic analysis of “Miss Julie” in regard to plot development will be discussed.
The development of the plot in “Miss Julie” does not seem to have as much to do with heredity as environment. For example, Miss Julie is an aristocrat that is thumbing her nose at the social norms of her time (Templeton, 470). This is very obviously part of her environment that she is dismissing as unimportant, or worth the risk. The first action that creates this snub is when Miss Julie enters the kitchen, which is also considered the servant’s quarters (Sprinchorn, 124). The mistress of the house should not be associating with the servants and yet not only does she associate with the servants in the kitchen, but also by celebrating mid-summers eve with the other servants at their dance. One sentence exhibits her wantonly ways for the evening, “On a night like this we’re all just ordinary people having fun, so we’ll forget about rank” (Strindberg, 929).
This next example of her environment influencing her is after her tryst with Jean, Miss Julie realizes that she has fallen from her aristocratic upbringing, which she emphasizes “Oh, God in heaven, end my wretched life! Take me away from the filth I’m sinking into! Save me! Save me!” (Strindberg, 934). Miss Julie knows that by intercourse with a servant will bring her family and herself shame and she will be no better than the servants in her house. The final act of the environment is when takes the razor from Jean “Thank you. I’m going now to rest!” (Strindberg, 941). She knows that there is no surviving in the environment in which she has created, and therefore will kill herself rather than face the shame of her actions.
Within this context it is obvious that the heredity of Miss Julie is not in play in regards to the plot development, however the changing environment caused by her decisions is a focal point in the development of the plot. With each new decision, entering the kitchen, entering Jean bedroom, fear of facing shame, each has led to the plot moving forward, for each decision would have made a difference in the plot had the decisions been different. This proves the point that “…naturalism shows life as it is – only worse” (Greenwald, Schultz, & Pomo, 841).
The second part of the definition is the use of the actors, the props, and set in which to emphasis the natural and true possibilities of the drama. It realize on costumes, lighting scenery and the tools used by the actors in their portrayal of the true to life characters (Greenwald, Schultz, & Pomo, 840). For Strindberg each piece of set and prop were also symbolic of the environment of the characters. The kitchen is symbolic of the lower status of the servants and by Miss Julie entering this area; she is symbolically lowering herself, just as her mother did before her death (Strindberg, 928). Another object that is used symbolically is the high riding boots that Jean carries into the kitchen.
These boots symbolized the authority of the Count and his presence even when he is away (Strindberg, 928). The wine that Jean drinks symbolizes his superiority to other servants, and to Miss Julie herself (Strindberg, 934; Templeton 469). The canary is a foreshadowing of what is to come of Miss Julie (Strindberg, 939).
Many believe that due to the use of symbolic affects, then the drama is no longer naturalistic in its structure, however, the use of only needed props and sets is one of the biggest parts of naturalism. Strindberg did not use anything that was not required for the development of the plot and to show the transference of superiority from Miss Julie to Jean by the end of the drama. Because of these moves away from naturalism, many critics believe that the drama is more on the realistic and symbolic or expressionist theories (Esslin 73-74; Sprinchorn, 121; Templeton, 469).
To answer the question of whether the naturalistic theory fits into the plot development of “Miss Julie” would be that it does not help with plot development. The fact is that realism is a structure that portrays real life events, but in a theatrical way. It does not rely on the struggles or taboos associated with hereditary and environment, but on the people portrayed. The other factor used in this play was the symbolism of many of the props. Symbolism and expressionism both came from the foundation of naturalism. They just took the concepts and ideals of naturalism a step further. Without the symbolism, “Miss Julie” would have been a very uninteresting and possibly stagnant drama. With the symbolism and the realistic portrayals of the characters “Miss Julie” came to life and thereby naturalism does not help the development of the plot.
Esslin, Martin. “Naturalism in Context.” The Drama Review: TDR 13.2 (Winter 1968): 67-76. JSTOR. 5 July 2009. Web.
Greenwald, Michael L., Roger Schultz, and Roberto D. Pomo eds. “Naturalism.” The Longman Anthology of Drama and Theater: A Global Perspective. New York:Pearson Longman, 2001. 840. Print
Sprinchorn, Evert. “Strindberg and the Greater Naturalism.” The Drama Review:TDR 13.2 (Winter 1968): 119-129. JSTOR 5 July 2009. Web.
Strindberg, August. “Miss Julie.” The Longman Anthology of Drama andTheater: A Global Perspective. Eds. Michael L. Greenwald, Roger Schultz, and Roberto D. Pomo. New York:Pearson Longman, 2001. 927. Print
Templeton, Alice. “Miss Julie” as “A Naturalistic Tragedy.” Theater Journal 42.4 (Dec 1990): 468-480. JSTOR 5 July 2009. Web
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