Miss Julie is one of the masterpieces written by August Strindberg, a Swedish playwright in 1888. The setting of Miss Julie takes place during a midsummer festival in late 19th century Sweden. It is about Miss Julie, a lonesome, hysterical and wild daughter of a count, who flirts with Jean, an ambitious valet of her father, in a party. According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, treatment here refers to the process or manner of treating something, that is the techniques and manners of writing the play by the playwright. In this paper, I’m going to discuss the techniques and attitudes of Strindberg’s writing of class system in Miss Julie.Order now
For the techniques of writing or treating the class system, I think Strindberg uses an appropriate setting in the play. The setting is on Midsummer Eve, a festival of pagan origins celebrated in Northern Europe. On Midsummer Eve, the regular provincial life is paused, as Miss Julie claims “all rank should be forgotten” (5). Thus, Midsummer Eve is a suitable setting for the crossing of social boundaries between Jean and Miss Julie. It gives Miss Julie, a master, an excuse to dance and so flirt with Jean, a servant. This also shows the rigidity of the class system in the late 19th century Europe, if there is no this festival, servants and masters can never play together.
What Strindberg tries to do by establishing the impression of the rigid class system, is to show readers the consequences when people in the play break the rule under this class system. In 1888, the balance of power in society was firmly with men, but Strindberg creates a dilemma by placing the man of his play in the lower class and the woman in a higher one. The normal solution of premarital sexual relationship for people is to get married, but because of class barriers, Jean and Miss Julie can never get married. Actually, if Miss Julie and Jean do not divulge the secret, no one would know their liaison and they can still lead a normal life in the town.
Yet, the point is Jean and Julie who have been deeply instructed by their strict class system to see themselves in a certain way. For example, Jean thinks his social position is even lower than animals “A dog may lie on her ladyship’s sofa; a horse may have his nose patted by the young lady’s hand, but a servant” (12). That’s why although no one blames them, Julie is scared and pressured to death. For me, the saddest thing is that the pressure imposing on Julie and Jean is not by other social members, but by themselves. This is what makes the play powerful and tragic to show the monstrous class system. This is also one of the special ways Strindberg treats this play.
The attitude or manner of the playwright towards the play is closed related to how he writes or treats the play. Throughout the play, I think Strindberg adopts a critical attitude towards class system. He aims to criticize the inflexible and evil class system by portraying the perplexity and agony of people that under the control or influence of the class system, the lack of the individuality of people who is bound by the origin or heredity of their family and the inequality of the class system that makes the lower class suffer.
As for Julie and Jean, both of them belong to different classes, the former belongs to the upper class while the latter belongs to the lower class. However, these two prisoners of their own class do not fit comfortably whine the rigid social structure of their time. This is symbolized by their exactly opposite dreams. As for Jean, he wants to climb up and up until the top of the tree, while Julie wants to climb down and down until reaching the very ground.
It’s nothing special that the lower class wants to be the upper class, but the irony lies here is that Julie who is regarded as the prestigious and privileged class also wants to get rid of her own class. Strindberg cleverly creates this abnormality to highlight the perplexity of their under the class system. The reason is that although both of them eager to get rid of their own social positions and even exchange the positions with each other, they are not able to do so as it is originally bound by their blood.
Here Strindberg criticizes the inflexibility of the class system ignoring people’s effort trying to change the present situation, like Jean, he is a class-ambitious servant, although he sleeps with Julie to achieve his ultimate aim (becoming a member of upper class), his position of being a servant is a fact of life. This is proved by his becoming inferior again when being reminding of the voice of the count.
I think most people would agree that each of us is an individual. However, in Miss Julie, in one sense, people lack individuality. For example, Julie may not regard herself as an individual in a sense that she is bound by the reputation of her social class and cannot do whatever she likes. She wants to be liberated to live for her own life without needing to conform to society’s norms. This can be shown by her preferring beer than wine (7) (upper class is supposed to drink wine rather than beer).
The class system in Miss Julie is portrayed as unequal and cruel to the lower class. In the play, the upper class is just described as possessing supreme authorities while the lower class as inferior than animals (as mentioned before). For instance, although Jean is the fianc of Christine, when their master, Julie, orders him to dance with her, Christine has no say by saying “that isn’t for me to say” (4), “I know my place” (5).
Although Julie is the master of them, I think she has no right to order Jean to dance with her, she is just abusing her class superiority and it is unfair to Jean and Christine. As for me, Julie is nothing more superior to her servant because she is just luckier than them by being born in an upper class family. What Strindberg tries to do in the play is to explore the abuse and unfairness of upper class to lower class in order to remind the upper class that they are just luckier than their servant but not superior to them. To conclude, Miss Julie is a wonderful play studying the psychology of people among different classes (how they struggle to get rid of their own class). And it is good that Strindberg gives a holistic treatment on the class system in his time by showing readers its characteristics and problems (rigid, inflexible and unfair) and how people react to it once they break the taboo.