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August Strindbergs Miss Julie Suicide Novel English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1675 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Miss Julie cannot control herself, which leads to her loss of control in society and, ultimately, her suicide. Although it is Midsummer’s Night, a holiday where people “should be enjoying [themselves]” (Strindberg 6), Miss Julie’s behaviour is nonetheless “completely wild” (1). As a lord’s daughter, she is expected to “go with her father to visit her cousins” (2) on this holiday. Miss Julie, however, decides to stay with her servants instead, perhaps because she is bored with her aristocratic life; she made her then fiancé jump over her riding crop because a lawyer like him “was boring” (32). Miss Julie’s impulsiveness, however, exceeds what her boredom and Midsummer’s Night can justify. Miss Julie is one of the “emancipated women” (27) who has overreached her freedom, turning the freedom into impulse. For instance, she decides to wake Kristin who is exhausted and “[earns] a rest” (11) just to show Jean that they are not alone in the room. Similarly, without thinking about the possible consequences, Miss Julie approaches Jean and flirts with him. She ignores Jean’s multiple warnings about potential scandal, declaring that because it is Midsummer’s Night, they should “not [be] fussing about mistresses and servants” (6). In addition to her state of being “free-thinking, free-loving, [and] free everything” (27) and the resulting rashness, Miss Julie is naïve. She is unaware of the sexual effects of her behaviour. For instance, when she only wants to pick a speck out of Jean’s eye, Jean shivers and warns her, “Je ne suis qu’un homme” (13).1 Even though she may not notice, her smallest actions can arouse a man’s sexual senses. Furthermore, Miss Julie is oblivious to the forces that shape human beings. As this is a naturalist play, the scientific aspects of behaviours are emphasized.2 Sex as a biological force dominates class, a socially constructed force. Being a woman, Miss Julie’s innate nature is to submit to men regardless of their class. As her “womb [cries] out for [Jean’s] sperm” (43), Miss Julie naturally cannot control herself and, along with her impulsive and naïve nature, she “throws herself at [Jean]” (27).

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After her sexual encounter, Miss Julie loses her control over Jean and commits suicide because of this loss of control. Instead of providing her with privileges, her higher social status becomes her burden. Realizing that her establishment of a sexual relationship with her servant will “sacrifice [her] family honour” (35) and, more importantly, make her known as the “whore” (26) who has done it, Miss Julie “bursts into tears” (34). She cries, “Look my father in eyes after, after… No! Take me away, scandal, I can’t stand it. What have I done? Oh God.” (24). Before scandal, Jean would “naturally” (9) obey Miss Julie, but now that she has become “dirt” and “nothing” (27), Miss Julie loses her social control over Jean. Becoming increasingly helpless, Miss Julie even offers Jean control over herself, saying to Jean, “Help me. Give me orders, I’ll obey like a dog… save my name, my honour” (50). Furthermore, Miss Julie loses her sexual power over Jean after her lack of self-control prompts her to sleep with him. As a woman, Miss Julie has power over Jean before they have sex because Jean has to “[play his part] in this grand seduction” (27)- in order to establish a sexual relationship with a woman, Jean needs to give “kisses and pretty speeches” (29). After the woman has submitted herself to him, a man is free to be a “snob” (47). Miss Julie, in turn, has no sexual power over Jean and has no opportunity “to see [Jean’s entire sex] drowning in a sea of blood” (43). Instead, she has to endure his domination over her as a man and begs him to “be human” (35). This loss of sexual control upsets Miss Julie immensely as she recalls her mother’s words, “Never to be slave to any man” (32). Because she is “far too proud, and far too bright, thanks to [her] father” (49), Miss Julie fears scandals and hates the loss of social control. Miss Julie’s loss of control over Jean, as result of her initial lack of self-control, finally leads her to commit suicide.

In contrast to Miss Julie, Hedda Gabler internalizes social values and controls herself accordingly, which, nonetheless, leads to her suicide. Married to a petite bourgeoisie- a specialist with a doctor’s degree- Hedda is confined by middle class social values. For instance, she is sensitive to manners, commenting that “it’s just not proper” (Ibsen 231) to throw a hat in a drawing room. During her honeymoon abroad, Hedda’s mind was also kept in her “cycle” (250). Whereas her husband Tesman had an exciting time with “marvellous old documents” (224), Hedda complains that there was “no one that one could talk to about [their] kind of things” (250). Knowing that Mrs. Elvsted, wife of an aristocratic sheriff, “[slips] away from the house” (240), Hedda exclaims, “But my dearest girl- that you could dare to such a thing!” (240). In contrast to Mrs. Elvsted, who becomes a collaborator of a creative work with a man who gives her a “wonderful [and] happy time” (241) and Miss Julie who has a sexual encounter with her servant, Hedda controls herself and chooses to avoid involvements with men other than her husband despite being attracted to them. For example, Hedda chooses not to embrace “something beautiful and fascinating” (265) in her “companionship in a thirst for life” (266) with Lovborg, an alcoholic, but to end it because she is “much too afraid of scandal” (266). Similarly, Hedda sets boundaries between herself and Brack, a judge from whom she enjoys sexual attention. Her boundary is shown early on in their conversation: when Brack physically leans “slightly forward” (249) as he talks, Hedda immediately withdraws, “leaning further back” (249). As Brack suggests Hedda to “jump out” (252) of her marriage, Hedda replies “with a disdainful gesture”, “I’m not interested” (252). These social and sexual restrictions that Hedda sets for herself limit her to Tesman, “a thoroughly acceptable choice” (251) for her “escort home” (254)- a place that only makes Hedda “so dreadfully bored” (250).

Seeking an outlet for a freedom of expression and being, Hedda wants to have control and power over others, which eventually leads her to commit suicide. Her desire to control others is reflected in her manipulative actions towards her guests. For instance, Hedda ignores Mrs. Elvsted’s desire to go home and “drags Mrs. Elvsted, almost by force, [back to the room]” (272). When Mrs. Elvsted is “about to sit down beside [Lovborg]” (267), Hedda exclaims, “No, no, Thea dear! Not there!” because she “want[s] to be in the middle” (267). By sitting between Mrs. Elvsted and Lovborg, Hedda is able to participate vicariously in their relationship. In fact, in front of Mrs. Elvsted, who has “rehabilitated” (241) Lovborg, Hedda dares Lovborg to drink a glass of punch and recommends him to go to Brack’s drinking party. It is indeed her desire “to have power over a human being” (272) that prompts her to do so. Unfortunately for Hedda, Lovborg acknowledges Mrs. Elvsted’s influence over him, telling Hedda that he has lost the “courage and daring for life” because Mrs. Elvsted has “broken in [him]” (286). Trying to “have a man’s fate in her hands” (287) as Mrs. Elvsted does, Hedda burns Lovborg and Mrs. Elvsted’s manuscript and gives Lovborg her pistol, suggesting he commit suicide “beautifully” (288). This pistol that Hedda possesses is itself symbolic. As guns are used by soldiers, the pistol represents social and institutional powers. As it belonged to General Gabler, it embodies aristocratic values. Guns are also phallic, symbolizing male power. After Brack reminds Hedda that she will soon have a scandal because Lovborg is found dead with her pistol, Hedda realizes that she is trapped. With “her head sinking”, Hedda says, “… I’m in your power. Tied to your will and desire” (302). As she “can’t bear the thought” (302) of losing power to another human being, not to mention being unable to have control over one, Hedda commits suicide. Symbolized by the use of a pistol, Hedda finally dies under repressive middle class values that conflict with her inherited aristocratic values as the daughter of General Gabler.

Miss Julie’s and Hedda Gabler’s suicides are triggered by opposite forces: whereas Miss Julie’s suicide is the result of her inability to control herself accordingly to social expectations, Hedda Gabler kills herself because she internalizes repressive social values. While Miss Julie’s “playing with fire” (Strindberg 14) contributes to her loss of control over Jean, Hedda Gabler’s “boring [herself] to death” (Ibsen 257) brings about her desire to control others. Nonetheless, both situations ultimately make “life so miserable [and] utterly ludicrous” (Ibsen 256) that committing suicide is perhaps the only alternative.


In English, “I am only a man”.

Strindberg, August. “Natrualism.” Introduction. Miss Julie. London, United Kingdom: Nick Hern Books, 1995. viii-x.


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