The term naturalism refers to a literary movement that appeared in France at the end of the 19th century as an extreme form of Realism. It was inspired in part by the scientific determinism of Charles Darwin, and the economic determinism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Emile Zola, the French writer, applied the principles of scientific and economic determinism to literature to create literary Naturalism. The name was drawn from its basic assumption that everything that is real exist in nature. Naturalism presents a photographic representation of life and stresses on how heredity and environment shape people’s life. According to Naturalism, a literary work should present life exactly as it is, without preachment, judgment, or embellishment, i.e. it needs to be as “natural” as possible.
AUGUST STRINDBERG (1849-1912)
August Strindberg (1849–1912), is a Swedish dramatist, novelist, poet, and painter. He was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 22, 1849. Strindberg became very famous for his theatrical studies on male-female conflict, as in The Father (1887), Miss Julie (1888) and The Stronger (1890); but he moved far from the naturalistic orientation of these plays in his later work.
ABOUT THE PLAY
The Stronger (1890) is a famous one-act play written by August Strindberg. The play is quite short as it consists of only one act that can be performed in fifteen minutes. The play is a very good example of dramatic monologue.
The play describes a random meeting between two actresses who are rivals for the same man (Bob). The meeting takes place in a women’s Café on Christmas Eve. In the course of the play, the speaker Mrs. X, Married to Bob, discovers that the silent character, Miss Y (Amelia), has been- and maybe still is- Bob’s mistress. Although the two characters are professionally paralleled, but they are socially contrasted. Mrs. X is employed at the Great Theatre where Bob has an important position, and she has three children in her marriage with him. Miss Y is unmarried, has no children and is no longer employed at the Great Theatre. At the end of the play, Mrs. X finds the truth about herself; she finds out that she has learned about life through imitating Miss Y.
In this play Strindberg advocated different techniques all of which were to have strong impact on modern drama and modern dramatists:
1. He mostly avoided dividing his play into acts because he did not want the intervals to disturb the flaw of information to the audience, i.e. he did not want to break the illusion.
2. For the same reasons he wants to get rid of any musicians that the audience could see.
3. There is a total back out in the theatre’s hall.
4. He presents the events by starting from the end, i.e. story telling.
5. Strindberg uses stage directions and Mrs. X interpretation of Miss Y responses to develop and guide the action.
Although he does not show in the play, but Bob, the husband of Mrs. X is the center of conflict. Both women compete to win his love and companionship. The conflict is revealed during the conversation between the two characters. The tension starts when Mrs. X starts to talk with Miss Y and telling her that “I do not hate you, I want to be your friend”. Miss Y stayed silent throughout the play doing nothing except some gestures and facial expressions beside few laughs.
To underline his theme and characterization, Strindberg used animal imagery which links man with his animal nature. Therefore Mrs. X compares Miss Y to different animal imagery in order to degrade her value and to insult her.
WHO IS THE STRONGER?
According to Strindberg, “the stronger is the softer, for the rigid person breaks, whereas the flexible one bends and rises again”. Before the end of the play, Mrs. X tells Miss Y that “ you couldn’t learn from others, you couldn’t bend and therefore you broke like a dry reed –but I didn’t” and therefore the title of the play can be linked with the speaking character that is Mrs. X.
WAR OF THE SEXES
In The Stronger Strindberg had depicted a “battle of the brains” in which one of the characters wins not because she was superior but because she was more adaptable or flexible.