Throughout Strindberg’s Miss Julie, the idea of breaking rules is thoroughly looked at. Most characters in the play are involved in the breaking of rules, especially Jean and Miss Julie. There are various reasons as to why these characters decide to break the rules and disregard society’s expectations, which leads to many conflicts and gets the characters in trouble within their society and household. Strindberg showcased this situation of social instability in order to analyze the state of different people of different classes. These people (e. . Jean), have been “hardened” by life, while people like Miss Julie have been pampered all their life and are somewhat unprepared to face the real outside world. In the society where this play is set, there are many rules, which people must follow. These rules are all tightly linked with class, and how people of different classes should interact with each other. Throughout the play, three main areas are looked at where rules are being broken. These include the interaction between classes, the breaking of trust in relationships, and sex.
Miss Julie is largely a depiction of how class systems are supposed to work in the time it was written. There are different levels of class in this household. There is the Count and the mistress, Miss Julie, which are seen as the high class. Within this high-class, there is a division between the Count and Miss Julie. This division would usually be because of the fact that the Count is older and is Miss Julie’s father. But for me, the split comes because of the fact that the Count handles and manages all the money, and consequently, money = power.
Ultimately, what Jean wants is Miss Julie’s (or the Count’s) money to open his hotel. But Miss Julie is only able to obtain the money by stealing. Therefore the Count has more power in this society than Miss Julie. The other class is the servants’. Again, inside the servant’s class, there are some splits. Jean is a butler; therefore he gets to go upstairs, and gets to interact directly with the Count. This makes Jean of higher class within the servants. On the other hand, Kristin simply cooks, so she has less responsibilities and interaction with the Count and mistress.
It is important to understand that the play is set in midsummer’s eve, the longest day of the year. The servants get this night off, and are able to go out and drink themselves to sleep. This means that they (the servants) will be out of control for the night, which may be a reason as to why Jean may have broken the rules and slept with Miss Julie – because he may have seen the midsummer’s eve atmosphere as an excuse to let go and do what he wants. Of course, it could be argued that what he wants is to go up in the class system, and he sees Miss Julie as a way to increase his social status.
Throughout the play, the order of class in society is constantly changing; one second with the mistress being in control, and the next the servant is controlling the mistress. This happens several times, and at the time, the audience found this unthinkable and downright wrong. The play is set in the house of the Count. The Count has a daughter, Miss Julie. It is understood that Miss Julie’s mother, the Count’s wife, had been against the idea of men overpowering women. In fact, she was for the idea of women overpowering men.
In page 124, it is shown what the Countess did to the order of men/women – “men were set to do women’s work, and women to do men’s”. This is seen as obscure, crazy, and even outrageous, especially at the time that the play was set. The Countess had power of the people that worked for her, and apparently she even had power over the Count himself in order for this to happen. It is seen that Miss Julie has inherited this type of women-power behavior; by the way that she treats men. Kristin makes a comment on the way that Miss Julie treated her ex-fiance. [Miss Julie and her ex-fiance] were in the stable yard one evening and the mistress was training him… She had him jumping over the whip like you teach a dog to jump” -p. 102. This clearly shows the way that Miss Julie treats men, and shows what she thinks she can get away with doing this, because of her place in society. The fact that Miss Julie interacts with Jean on a friendly level causes some problems. The only reason one would talk to a servant is to give an order. Even then, Jean is the Count’s butler; therefore, she shouldn’t even talk to Jean.
When first reading the book, Miss Julie is said to have been “leading the dance with the gamekeeper”, p. 101. Miss Julie’s interaction with Jean is a big taboo in their society, yet both Miss Julie and Jean both go for it and nothing really stops them from developing a forbidden relationship. Kristin is a very interesting character. She seems to be the only one that follows rules and conforms to society’s expectations. Even when she finds out about Miss Julie and Jean, she keeps calm, and becomes in charge of the situation, which makes her appear of higher power, even over Miss Julie.
While Miss Julie is having an emotional breakdown, Kristin seems to be calmed, even when Jean starts blaming her for useless things. Kristin is used as a benchmark to which to compare other characters, and to see how a person in control is supposed to be, unlike our unstable characters such as Miss Julie and Jean. This play has a strong focus on trust, and how it is being broken with different people, and how strong different levels of trust are in different levels of society. To start with, Jean and Kristin are engaged. Even back then, this meant that there is a different level of commitment and monotonousness.
Therefore, even the fact that Jean is flirting with Miss Julie is not only bad because they are of different class, but also because Jean is committed to another women. Hence there is trust being broken between Jean and Kristin. Furthermore, Jean decides to go as far as to sleep with Miss Julie. Like stated before, this was unthinkable at the time, because Miss Julie and Jean are of different class levels. But there are references in the play that point towards that fact that Jean may have already slept with Kristin, JEAN – “she talks in her sleep”, MISS JULIE – “How do you know she talks in her sleep? This means that they don’t only have a committed emotional relationship, but also a serious physical relationship. One would think that this would make the trust stronger in Jean and Kristin’s relationship. Therefore, Jean breaking Kristin’s trust is a big deal. There is another instance where trust is being broken in the play. Towards the end of the play, Miss Julie steals some of her father’s money to give to Jean. It is assumed that the Count trusts Miss Julie, as it is her daughter. Also, Jean is the Count’s butler, so there is also a certain level of trust that must be kept in that kind of relationship.
So when Miss Julie takes the Count’s money, it is a big shock for the audience. Miss Julie breaks a great amount of trust. Jean accepting that money also shows the breaking of trust that the Count had for him. Trust and respect should’ve stopped Jean from accepting that money, but he decides to break that barrier and take the money anyway. There is one more instance where trust is being broken, between the Count and the Countess herself. They needed to borrow money, and the Countess found an old friend who was a brick-maker, and he decided to give them a no interest deal.
Miss Julie states that it was her mother’s lover. Therefore, the trust that should’ve been between the Count and Countess was broken. Alternatively, one could argue that the trust was never there in the first place, as the Countess’ ideologies didn’t allow there to be trust between their relationship. Another very controversial area where rules are being broken is sex. The idea of Miss Julie and Jean having sex is wrong for a couple of reasons. To start off, they are not married and have barely had any sort of emotional relationship. Therefore the fact that they had sex proves to be a very unjustifiable one.
At the time, mindless and casual sex was very uncommon for a person of Miss Julie’s class. It should never have occurred. Yet it did, which portrays perfectly the breaking of rules. Another reason why Miss Julie and Jean shouldn’t have had sex is because they are of completely different classes, and have very different backgrounds. While Jean has been hardened by life, he has to do to get what he wants. So he tells Miss Julie what she wants to hear in order to obtain her “love”. On the other hand, Miss Julie hasn’t had much real life experience, since she has lived a relatively sheltered life.
Therefore, it is unlikely that she would’ve been able to pick out on what Jean’s intentions were. Now, after their lovemaking is finished, the audience is left dumbfounded as it is difficult to accept, at the time, that two people from such different class systems could have possibly done what they did. All in all, Miss Julie portrays some very nontraditional and upsetting themes. The rules they broke seem to have shown an audience to what extent a servant and a mistress could ruin their social status, as well as their lives. Through exploring how different classes worked, one can understand why the rules are applied.
This play seems to show most of the rules being broken, which personally, is why I find this play so exhilarating. It’s not only telling you what can go wrong, but its showing you. Through exploring the different trust levels of different characters one could understand why some things in this play are wrong, and what the ramifications could be. Ultimately, one of the more serious scenarios is the sexual activity that occurs between Miss Julie and Jean, once one understands how that is unacceptable, one would realize that this play is largely focusing on how rules are being broken.
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