Theatre Database
Home | Ancient Theatre | Medieval Theatre | 16th Century | 17th Century | 18th Century | 19th Century | 20th Century


THE SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF AUGUST STRINDBERG

The following essay was originally published in The Social Significance of the Modern Drama. Emma Goldman. Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1914. pp. 43-5.

"THE reproach was levelled against my tragedy, The Father, that it was so sad, as though one wanted merry tragedies. People clamour for the joy of life, and the theatrical managers order farces, as though the joy of life consisted in being foolish, and in describing people as if they were each and all afflicted with St. Vitus's dance or idiocy. I find the joy of life in the powerful, cruel struggle of life, and my enjoyment in discovering something, in learning something."

The passionate desire to discover something, to learn something, made of August Strindberg a keen dissector of souls. Above all, of his own soul.

Surely there is no figure in [the] literature [of his day], outside of Tolstoy, that laid bare the most secret nooks and corners of his own soul with the sincerity of August Strindberg. One so relentlessly honest with himself, could be no less with others.

That explains the bitter opposition and hatred of his critics. They did not object so much to Strindberg's self-torture; but that he should have dared to torture them, to hold up his searching mirror to their sore spots, that they could not forgive.

Especially is this true of woman. For centuries she has been lulled into a trance by the songs of the troubadours who paid homage to her goodness, her sweetness, her selflessness and, above all, her noble motherhood. And though she is beginning to appreciate that all this incense has befogged her mind and paralyzed her soul, she hates to give up the tribute laid at her feet by sentimental moonshiners of the past.

To be sure, it is rude to turn on the full searchlight upon a painted face. But how is one to know what is back of the paint and artifice? August Strindberg hated artifice with all the passion of his being; hence his severe criticism of woman. Perhaps it was his tragedy to see her as she really is, and not as she appears in her trance. To love with open eyes is, indeed, a tragedy, and Strindberg loved woman. All his life long he yearned for her love, as mother, as wife, as companion. But his longing for, and his need of her, were the crucible of Strindberg, as they have been the crucible of every man, even of the mightiest spirit.

Why it is so is best expressed in the words of the old nurse, Margret, in The Father: "Because all you men, great and small, are woman's children, every man of you."

The child in man -- and the greater the man the more dominant the child in him -- has ever succumbed to the Earth Spirit, Woman, and as long as that is her only drawing power, Man, with all his strength and genius, will ever be at her feet.

The Earth Spirit is motherhood carrying the race in its womb; the flame of life luring the moth, often against its will, to destruction.

In all of Strindberg's plays we see the flame of life at work, ravishing man's brain, consuming man's faith, rousing man's passion. Always, always the flame of life is drawing its victims with irresistible force. August Strindberg's arraignment of that force is at the same time a confession of faith. He, too, was the child of woman, and utterly helpless before her.


AUGUST STRINDBERG RESOURCES