“And Now: Kiss My Shoe!”: Class and Sexual ConflictIn Strindberg’s
Man endures pain as an undeserved punishment;woman accepts it as a natural heritage.-Anonymous Nobody will ever win the Battle of the Sexes.There's just too much fraternizingwith the enemy.-Henry Kissinger
Theatre in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was influenced greatly by a literary movementcalled Naturalism. The movement made extensive use of Realism which was fathered by French realist,Honore de Balzac, in the early nineteenth century. Naturalism that occurred immediately after, isconsidered as an extension of this, and goes a step further to establish that heredity, social milieu andenvironment shape the human character, and the trajectory of its mortal existence. The naturalistic principles were greatly derived from Darwinist principles of the ‘Survival of the Fittest’, which contendedthat there was a perennial struggle for dominance and survival amongst species, and the ‘fittest’eliminated the weaker ones by way of direct confrontation and competition for the limited resources.Alongside naturalistic elements, a sense of deep pessimism pervaded the arts- especially the literary worksof that age. Strindberg at that time was writing in accordance with Emile Zola’s idea of ‘Naturalism inTheatre’ and Andre Antoine’s ‘Theatre of the
, that allowed him the liberty of incorporating verysubtle effects such as the play of emotions on a character’s face and a steady conversationalist exchange of dialogue
. Most importantly, the Theatre of the Intimate allowed him to write in his style without makingintellectual compromises, for the material and financial support was guaranteed by a small coterie classthat gave patronage to the plays.But though Strindberg was influenced by Naturalism, his personal philosophy, as critic Evert Sprinchorn points out, was that “life was to be viewed less as a struggle against heredity and environment, as the Naturalists insisted, than as the struggle of minds, each seeking to impose its will on other minds.” He wasaffirmed by the writing of Bernheim, and wrote an essay called, ‘The Battle of the Brains’. Moreover, inthe Preface to Miss Julie, Strindberg says, “Life is not so mathematically idiotic that only the large oneseat the small; it equally often happens that the bee kills the Lion or at least drives it crazy.” It is
ideology that is reflected in the play,
. For along with the “survival of the fittest”, is seen thegradual destruction of the ‘Lion’; the socially superior Miss Julie, belonging to the aristocrat lineage, atthe hands of the ‘Bee’; the inferior one who was but a valet of her father, the Count.And so, “And now: Kiss my shoe!”, when uttered by Miss Julie to Jean, in haughtiness due to her classsuperiority, meant also for a tantalizing effect that washes over them both, reflects effectively the sexualand class tensions that exist in the play between the two characters, and how Miss Julie attempts to “playwith fire”, against the existing social structures, as did her literary foremother, Anna Karenina.
From Ever Sprinchorn’s ‘Strindberg and the Greater Naturalism’