The Father (Strindberg)
The story surrounds the conflict of interest between The Captain and his wife, Laura. The Captain is an ex-military hero and a well-respected scientist who fights with his wife about how to raise their daughter, Bertha. Both know Bertha cannot be raised in the Captain's household; however, the Captain wants her to be raised as an atheist in the city, whereas Laura wants her daughter to have a different destiny, perhaps as an artist. Swedish law at the time prevents Laura's wishes about her daughter's future to be followed, so she frames the Captain to be mentally insane in order to win the decision over her daughter's future. In order to make the Captain go insane, she introduces the idea that for all he knows, Bertha may not even be his daughter - implying that she had been unfaithful. Laura also intercepts his mail, and lies to the influential Doctor, in efforts to convince him of the Captain's insanity. The Captain starts to believe that Bertha is not his child, and eventually is locked in a room, with bullets emptied from all guns, so the Captain may not shoot himself. Laura, who has now swayed the long contemplative Doctor and the Pastor into believing the Captain's perhaps now legitimate insanity, has the Nurse put a straitjacket on him as he comes out. Rather, the Captain cites numerous times in literature where there were references to illegitimate fathers, labels all women as his enemy, sits on his Nurse's lap in a position that almost suggests that of breastfeeding, and has a stroke on her knees. Bertha runs to her mother, who now has custody of her child.
Apropos to Strindberg's recurrent themes, The Father is a play that victimizes men, and puts a negative spotlight on women and their alleged manipulation over men. Many times, the Captain, in great detail, talks about how women have become his enemy, even his long loved Nurse. At the time the play was written, Strindberg's marriage was deteriorating with his wife Siri von Essen, and situations in the play could have very loosely resembled situations occurring in his failing marriage. Furthermore, there is a heavy religious theme in the play. The Captain, who is an atheist, constantly disparages the Nurse's and Pastor's Christian beliefs as hypocritical and cold. Almost symbolically, the play's last line is the Pastor's, with a simple, "Amen." There are also references in the play to Greek Mythology and Shakespeare plays, such as Merchant of Venice and Hamlet.
Because of blasphemous comments about Jesus Christ, Strindberg found it hard for his work to be published and produced in Sweden. Therefore, the play was the first Strindberg play to be produced outside of Scandinavia, in Berlin in 1890. The Father marked a turning point for Strindberg, as he went to a style of writing he deemed "artistic-psychological writing" (Oxford World's Classics ix). The Father was yet another example of the ongoing discussion in the Scandinavian theater surrounding women's rights, marriage and sexual morality (all topics seen in the work of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen). Strindberg did not refer to his work as a work of naturalism; he strived to make literature as objective as possible, and did not want his characters to require long, detailed back stories like in the naturalist dramas of Ibsen. Instead, he preferred simple professions (The Doctor, The Pastor, The Nurse) and charactonyms (Nöjd, Svärd) to give all the necessary information in terms of character (Oxford ix). Strindberg found naturalism to be a factor of great confrontation, and not mundanity. The play is largely symbolic, as the characters in The Father are symbols of masculine heroism vs. feminine deceit. There is almost a Darwinian struggle between these two principles, as Darwin's theory is referenced in the play.
Reception in English
The play has been translated by Peter Watts (1958), Michael Meyer (1964), Michael Robinson (1998), Gregory Motton (2000) and Laurie Slade (2012). The role of the Captain has been played in the West End by Michael Redgrave (1948), Wilfrid Lawson (1953) and Trevor Howard (1964).
- The Plays of Strindberg Volume 1 translated by Michael Meyer, Vintage, New York, 1974 ISBN 0-394-71698-1
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|