Scandinavian Literature Final Paper
August Johan Strindberg is a quintessential author of the Modern Breakthrough movement due to his controversial ideas of society and naturalistic style of writing. Strindberg’s eccentric perspective on the world stems from his troubling childhood and mental instability. His ideas illustrate the core ideal of the Modern Breakthrough, that of the opposition to Romantic ideals. During the Modern Breakthrough, the importance of marriage, the role of women in society, sexual morality, and atheism were all questioned. Strindberg’s provocative ideas about women, sex, and religion, which defined this turn-of-the-century era, are expressed openly in his poems, novels, and plays. His one-act allegorical monologue “The Stronger” illustrates the juxtaposition of old and new while focusing on the debate of gender roles and the woman question in society through characters based on his personal life.
The Modern Breakthrough began as a reaction to the ideas of Romanticism in the late nineteenth century. Emphasis on beauty and an ideal world was now replaced with hard objective truth and debates about social conflicts. This new style and subject of writing, also known as naturalism, was extremely controversial as it dealt with issues of sexuality and gender in society, both of which were never openly discussed in the Romantic era. The start of the Modern Breakthrough movement is attributed to Georg Brandes, who in 1870 protested “against the dominance of outdated bourgeois romanticism” (Liet). Brandes was a well-traveled man and identified that the Scandinavian society socially lagged behind the rest of Europe and he made it his mission to embark on a “quasi-religious assignment of self-sacrifice” in order to bring the Scandinavian society to the level of the rest of Europe (Liet). The most prevalent problem he witnessed in the old-fashioned society was that of gender roles and relationships between sexes. During the first half of the nineteenth century middle-class women were “only respectable as members of a family” (Sjögren). As the nineteenth century progressed, economic and political changes led to this idea to be challenged. Women were becoming a more prominent contributor to society as they began to outnumber men. Their work was necessary for economic stability. This upset of the social norms is reflected in the writings of the Modern Breakthrough authors. August Strindberg’s ideas originally coincided with these Modern Breakthrough ideas and he became known as a significant writer of this time. His maturation and changing ideas were always one step ahead of the social norm, making him an outcast and controversial to society. His initial feministic views were challenged by society; however his later misogynistic views proved to be the most controversial. His feministic views were swiftly transformed to misogynistic views as he described himself as a “complete rabble and woman hater” (Strindberg, Strindberg's Letters 287). Unafraid to voice his ideas through his plays, he was often criticized and was even accused of blasphemy. Although an influential part of naturalism, many of Strindberg’s later ideas even contrasted with the typical naturalistic views. In his monologue “The Stronger,” he voices his controversial opinions, combining his initial feministic ideas with his later misogynistic concepts. By doing so, Strindberg ironically creates a dichotomy between the New Woman and the traditional woman and allows the audience to decide which woman more desirable. This symbolic monologue, “The Stronger” is a quintessential naturalistic play as it is simplistic in nature and captures the ideals of the Modern Breakthrough; the struggle “between the old and new” and the “simple scientific demonstration of the survival of the fittest” (Sjögren) (Brustein). It further reflects the changing idea of what a woman was meant to do and be in the turn-of-the-century society.
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Sjögren, Kristina. "Transgressive Femininity: gender in the Scandinavian Modern Breakthrough." University College London, 2010.
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Strindberg, August. "Strindberg 's Letters." Ed. Michael Robinson. Trans. Michael Robinson. London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992. Print.
—. "The Stronger." Trans. Edith and Warner Oland. n.d.
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