Miss Julie: A Psychoanalytic Study

Sonali Jain


Sigmund Freud theorized that ‘the hero of the tragedy must suffer…to bear the burden of tragic guilt…(that) lay in rebellion against some divine or human authority.’ August Strindberg, the Swedish poet, playwright, author and visual artist, like Shakespeare before him, portrayed insanity as the ultimate of tragic conflict.
In this paper I seek to explore and reiterate the dynamics of human relationships that are as relevant today as they were in Strindberg’s time. I propose to examine Strindberg’s Miss Julie, a play set in nineteenth century Sweden, through a psychoanalytic lens. The play deals with bold themes of class and sexual identity politics. Notwithstanding the progress made in breaking down gender barriers, the inequalities inherent in a patriarchal system persist in modern society. Miss Julie highlights these imbalances.
My analysis of the play deals with issues of culture and psyche, and draws on Freud, Melanie Klein, Lacan, Luce Irigaray and other contemporary feminists. Miss Julie is a discourse on hysteria, which is still pivotal to psychoanalysis.
Prominent philosophers like Hegel and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan have written about the dialectic of the master and the slave – a relationship that is characterized by dependence, demand and cruelty. The history of human civilization shows beyond any doubt that there is an intimate connection between cruelty and the sexual instinct.
An analysis of the text is carried out using the sado-masochistic dynamic as well the slave-master discourse. I argue that Miss Julie subverts the slave-master relationship. The struggle for dominance and power is closely linked with the theme of sexuality in the unconscious.
To quote the English actor and director Alan Rickman, ‘Watching or working on the plays of Strindberg is like seeing the skin, flesh and bones of life separated from each other. Challenging and timeless.’


Psychoanalysis; Slave-Master; Sado-Masochism; Narcissism; Hysteria; Culture; Psyche

Full Text:


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21533/epiphany.v8i2.168


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2015 Epiphany

Epiphany (pISSN 2303-6850, eISSN 1840-3719) is currently Indexed/Abstracted