On Midsummer’s Eve, Christine (a cook) is working in the kitchen. Jean (a valet) enters and begins cleaning his master the Count’s boots. Jean tells Christine that their mistress, the Count’s daughter Miss Julie, is “crazy tonight,” having asked both Jean and the gatekeeper to dance with her in full view of the other servants. Jean says that it is strange that Miss Julie would rather stay at home with the servants while her father went to visit relatives.
The opening moments of the play immediately situate the action within the servants’ space. Immediately it is clear that Miss Julie’s servants view her with disdain for attempting to socialize with her employees instead of going to visit her relatives with her father, the Count.
Christine explains that Miss Julie has been crazy ever since she ended her engagement with the county attorney. Jean agrees, telling Christine that he saw Miss Julie and her fiancé in the stables one day. He explains that Miss Julie was “training” her fiancé with a horsewhip like one would train a dog. Each time he jumped over the whip, he got cut. The third time that the man jumped, Jean watched him break the whip and storm away.
Miss Julie’s “training” exercise with her fiancé introduces the audience to her overwhelming desire for dominance (primarily over men) and also, importantly, to her failure to comply with the duties of “natural” womanhood: not only to marry, but to be nurturing and supportive of her husband.
Christine gives Jean the food she has been saving for him but Jean is displeased, chiding her for not warming the plate first and for drinking beer instead of one of the Count’s fine wines. Christine jokes that Jean is harder to please than the Count himself.
Christine explains that she is making food for Miss Julie’s dog, Diana, who is pregnant after having been found running around with the gatekeeper’s pug. Julie is beside herself that her dog is pregnant and she does not want the dog anymore.
Julie’s dog’s pregnancy foreshadows Julie’s own fate, tainted by a dalliance with a member of the lower class and therefore unable to return to her old life.
Jean explains that both Miss Julie and her mother before her are “too stuck up in some ways and not proud enough in others,” caring about visible symbols of her aristocracy like coronet cuff links, but insisting on riding horses like a man and dancing brazenly with male servants. Christine asks Jean to dance with her after she finishes cooking and he agrees.
Jean and Christine believe Julie’s “mistaken” upbringing and her mother’s influence to be the reasons that she is not able to meet even the most basic expectations of aristocratic society. This observation reinforces Strindberg’s belief that the aristocracy protected “unfit” and “unnatural” individuals like Julie while subjugating superior men like Jean.
Miss Julie enters, ostensibly to check if Christine has finished the tonic for her dog. Miss Julie is immediately flirtatious with Jean, asking him to come and dance with her again. Jean attempts to decline, explaining that he promised to dance with Christine and that the other servants will gossip if he is seen dancing with Julie twice in a row.
Julie is outraged at the suggestion that she is showing Jean preferential treatment, insisting it is simply because she wants to dance with a partner who knows how to lead. Jean relents, placing himself at Miss Julie’s “command.” They exit together.
In a pantomime sequence, Christine finishes her cooking, looks at herself in the mirror, and curls the front of her hair with a hairpin. She notices the handkerchief that Miss Julie left behind and lifts it up to smell it.
Strindberg’s empty stage set meant that the actors had to pantomime. The spare set made it so that there was little to distract from the characters’ emotions and psyches.
Jean returns alone, explaining that Miss Julie has been dancing wildly. Christine says that Julie is on her period and often becomes erratic when she has it. Jean asks if Christine is angry that he abandoned her to dance with Julie, but Christine forgives him, since he danced with Miss Julie and not one of the other servant girls. Jean grabs Christine around the waist and tells her that she will make a good wife to him one day.
Christine disdains and pities Miss Julie’s loose behavior, likely as a result of her piety. By telling Jean that she would only be jealous if he danced with a member of his own class over her, Christine indicates that she is firmly entrenched in her servant’s outlook, and does not possess Jean’s desire to transcend it.
Julie re-enters and is unhappy to see Jean and Christine being so familiar. Miss Julie orders Jean to change out of his servant’s uniform to honor Midsummer. He asks to take leave of her in order to change coats, but she urges him not to be modest on her account. When Jean is changing, Miss Julie asks Christine if she and Jean are engaged and Christine confirms that they are.
Julie’s displeasure at seeing Christine and Jean together is another example of her inability to fully perform her role as a noblewoman. Her jealously indicates that she sees herself as Christine’s romantic rival (and therefore, equal), and yet it also indicates that she views Jean as her property, with whom she has sole rights to intimacy.
Jean returns in his coat. Miss Julie compliments him in French and he responds in French, which he learned while he was a sommelier at an upscale Swiss restaurant. Julie is impressed with Jean’s command of language and asks him his parentage. Jean explains that his father was a cotter on her father’s estate and that he recalls seeing her as a child, but refuses to elaborate on when or how.
Jean’s command of French is an example of the ways in which he learns from and adapts to his environment in order to better himself socially. This adaptability is another of the qualities that make Jean, in Strindberg’s eyes, a “new man” who will be able to transcend his social station.
Christine has fallen asleep by the stove. Julie remarks that she will make a good wife, and Jean agrees but tells her that Christine talks in her sleep (something he knows because he has heard it).
By telling Julie that he has heard Christine talking in her sleep, Jean alerts Julie to the sexual nature of their relationship. It is also a somewhat irreverent thing for a servant to tell his employer, signaling a shift in the power dynamic between Julie and Jean.
Julie asks Jean to sit down and have a drink with her. He refuses, saying it would be improper if anyone were to see them. Miss Julie rephrases the question as an order and Jean obeys.
This is another instance in which Julie uses her social status to order Jean to do her bidding. Jean willingly obeys again, as a method of satisfying Julie’s desire for dominance.
Jean offers Miss Julie some of her father’s wine, but she says that she has simpler tastes and prefers to drink beer. Julie orders Jean to drink to her health and he kneels, gallantly to obey. While he is on his knees, Julie tells him to kiss her shoe in order to “get it just right.” Jean does.
Julie’s “simple” taste is a reference to her socially egalitarian upbringing. Telling Jean to kiss her shoe is another example of the kind of intimate humiliation that ended Julie’s engagement to the count attorney. Here, this behavior is doubly humiliating because it is meant to remind Jean of his low social position.
Jean gets up. He warns Miss Julie against continuing to seduce him. He explains that the other servants are already gossiping about her reputation, and continuing to drink alone with Jean would only fuel the fire. Julie replies coyly that they are not alone, pointing to Christine who mumbles in her sleep and then wakes herself up to go to bed.
By brazenly and autonomously pursuing sex, especially with a member of the servant class, Julie has lost the respect of her staff, who disdain her for acting in a way unworthy of her noble station. Jean’s understanding of their social relationship again shows that he aims to understand and ultimately transcend the social hierarchy.
Julie asks Jean to pick lilacs with her and Jean refuses, telling Julie that he does not believe her coy games and understands that she wishes to sleep with him. Miss Julie tells Jean that his keen sense makes him “an aristocrat,” and that she is “stepping down” to his level by continuing so intimately with him. Jean tells Julie that it is unwise to step down willingly because everyone will assume that she “fell down.”
Julie validates Jean’s “aristocratic” tastes, but still understands herself to be “stepping down” in seducing him. This suggests that, although Jean possesses the soul and intellect of a nobleman, his low class resolutely places him in an inferior position to Julie.
Miss Julie tells Jean that she has had a recurring dream in which she climbs to the top of a high column but, reaching the top has no way to climb down without jumping. Jean counters her, explaining that in his own dream, he is under a very tall tree looking upward. He knows that if he can just grab hold of the first branch the climb will be easy to the top, but the first branch remains elusively out of reach.
Both Julie and Jean view their respective escapes from the bounds of their social classes in terms of climbing. However, while Julie dreams of climbing down, Jean dreams of grabbing the “first branch” and easily climbing to the top. The dreams ultimately foreshadow both characters’ fates at the end of the play.
Jean is bothered by some dust in his eye and Miss Julie moves close to him to get it out, touching his arms as she does. Jean cautions her to be careful, that he is “only a man.” Julie, undaunted, asks him to kiss her hand. Emboldened, Jean takes her around the waist, before he can kiss her however, she bats him away.
Strindberg posits in his preface that one of the reasons for Julie’s downfall is that she is in a “secluded room” with an “excited man.” While Strindberg views Julie’s lust and sexual desire to be abhorrent and degenerate, he views Jean’s to be a natural characteristic of maleness.
Angered by her refusal, Jean tells Miss Julie that he is tired of “being her playmate” and prepares to go to bed. Julie stops him, asking him if he has ever been in love. Jean tells her that he was in love once but refuses to say with whom. Miss Julie asks him “as an equal,” and he agrees to tell her the story. He explains that he grew up dirt poor in the cotter’s hovel on her estate. One day, he saw a Turkish pavilion (outhouse) whose walls were adorned with fine curtains and pictures. Jean snuck in to admire it but, when someone threatened to find him, he was forced to escape through the excrement in the bottom of the outhouse and into the garden.
Jean’s humiliating story serves two purposes. Firstly, the outhouse, whose ornate walls mask the toilet and excrement within, is a metaphor for the way that Strindberg viewed the aristocracy, which elevated and protected “rotten” people. In addition, by telling Julie that he had to climb through excrement because it was “the only way out” for someone of his class, Jean attempts to force Julie to understand the humiliating reality of poverty that she can never comprehend no matter how much she desires to speak to him “as an equal.”
When Jean emerged, he saw Miss Julie walking in her rose garden and was bewitched by her immediately. Julie is charmed by Jean’s story, telling him that it must be “a great misfortune to be poor.” Jean agrees, explaining that the following Sunday he put on his best clothes, intent on seeing Julie once more and then killing himself. Determined to die “beautifully,” Jean took elderflower blossoms (whose scent is poisonous in close proximity) and fell asleep in a vat of oats. Though he got very sick, Jean was found before he died. Jean tells Julie that he never thought he would win her love, but she symbolized escaping from poverty.
Jean purposefully weaves a romantic story for Miss Julie—one that resembles a fable more than reality. Julie accepts Jean’s story as true, though it is later revealed to be false, because it plays into her own conception of poverty as a dramatic, exciting, and freeing condition that will strip her of the stifling responsibilities of nobility.
Julie applauds Jean’s story, telling him that he “narrates splendidly.” She asks Jean if he went to school. Jean tells her that, though he went to school for a moment, he learns the most from listening to the conversations of upper class people like Miss Julie and her girlfriends. Jean tells Miss Julie that he once overheard one of her conversations and was surprised by its promiscuous content.
Jean begins to gain a more dominant position in his relationship with Miss Julie when he makes it clear that he has been studying her life and remembering even her most intimate and salacious conversations. In lecturing Julie on her promiscuity, Jean oversteps the boundaries of servitude and shames Julie outright.
Julie defends herself, explaining that unlike Jean, aristocrats don’t have sex before marriage and so they need an outlet for their curiosity. Julie explains that her fiancé was “a scoundrel.” Jean, unconvinced, explains that Julie always calls men “scoundrels” after having her way with them.
Julie attempts to redraw class distinctions between her and Jean, construing promiscuity as lower class and “curiosity” as noble. Jean rejects this idea, insinuating that he knows Julie to have slept with her fiancé (and potentially other men) whom she then saddles with the blame to protect her reputation.
Jean asks for permission to go to bed, but Julie asks him to take her out in a boat on the lake to see the sun rise. Jean councils Julie again to think of her reputation and to go to bed before she makes a decision that she regrets. At that moment, Julie and Jean hear an oncoming chorus of servants who threaten to catch them together, ruining Julie’s reputation.
Importantly, Miss Julie never explicitly assents to sleep with Jean, choosing instead to flirt heavily and use innuendo. However, when her servants threaten to catch them together and she is faced with the destruction of her reputation, the consequences of her flirtation become impossible to ignore. In this way, Julie can never truly escape the burden of her social class even if she pretends to “step down” by flirting with Jean.
Julie tells Jean that she does not fear her servants, who “love her.” Jean explains that the servants do not love their masters, but rather smile to their faces and spit behind their backs. He explains that the only way to escape the “mob” of servants is to retreat into his bedroom and lock the door. Julie says she will go with Jean if he promises to protect her and he agrees. They exit.
Julie’s insistence that her servants “love her” is just another way that she refuses to understand the reality of the social hierarchy. Julie’s belief that she can easily move freely between her world and Jean’s is misguided; in reality, “the mob” forces her to escape into Jean’s room, where she consummates a relationship that will ultimately cause her downfall.
The servants enter and sing and dance around the kitchen before exiting. Jean and Miss Julie re-enter, having consummated their relationship. Jean tells Julie that it is impossible for the two of them to stay on the Count’s estate since they have slept together. Jean tells Julie that they will go to Switzerland where Jean will fulfil his dream of opening a hotel and Julie will be the mistress of the house. Transformed, Julie asks Jean to embrace her and tell her that he loves her. Jean refuses, saying he has to be discreet while they remain in the Count’s home.
The song and dance is perhaps Strindberg’s attempt at making sure his audience continues to pay attention to the action. After Julie and Jean consummate their relationship, the power dynamic immediately switches. Having been overpowered and sexually dominated by a “real” man like Jean, Julie’s “suppressed” feminine instincts emerge. She becomes submissive, meek, and emotional while Jean becomes hyper-rational, cold, and calculating.
Jean continues to call Julie “Miss Julie,” explaining that social classes will always be a barrier between them until they can escape. While Jean remains in the Count’s house, he says that any visual reminder of the Count (like his boots, which are resting on a chair) will remind Jean of his servitude. Once they have escaped and Jean can start his hotel however, Jean will be the master of his own domain, finally having grabbed “the first branch” from his dream of success. Jean explains he will be a self-made count and Julie his countess.
In Strindberg’s preface, he makes it clear that Jean is right to assume that he will be able to eventually own his own hotel and even buy a title of his own if he wants one. However, Jean’s journey towards self-determinism must begin with physical escape from the Count’s home.
Miss Julie agrees but is troubled that Jean will still not express his love for her. Jean is cold and rational, focused on his escape, but Julie finds him to be cruel and unfeeling. Jean explains that they need money if they want to escape and set up their hotel. Julie, taken aback, explains that she has no capital of her own. Jean explains that, in that case, they cannot leave and everything will “remain as before.”
Julie’s continued insistence that Jean must prove that he loves her is another example of the ways in which she has been restored to a “conventionally” feminine submissiveness after having sex with Jean. Because sex has re-instituted her “natural” submissive instincts, she suddenly relies on Jean for validation.
Aghast, Julie says that she will refuse to stay in her father’s house having been sullied by Jean. She laments her poor judgement, which will likely cause her father’s ruin as well as her own. She curses the “horrible power” that drew her to Jean and caused her fall from grace.
Here Julie speaks to her regret over having slept with Jean. The “horrible power” of which she speaks is perhaps none other than what Strindberg would call her “natural” femininity. Indeed, Strindberg calls Miss Julie tragic because she demonstrates a “desperate struggle against nature.”
Unmoved, Jean opens a drawer and pours a glass of the Count’s best Burgundy, claiming it is “good enough for his son-in-law.”
Jean’s sexual domination of Julie allows him to think of himself as her moral and emotional superior. Therefore, he brazenly shows off the “aristocratic” traits of taste and sophistication that he has been teaching himself.
Julie claims that the Midsummer feast made her drunk and Jean took advantage of her innocence. She prays to God to “save her from the filth” she is sinking into. Jean does not accept the blame, calling Miss Julie a whore. Jean further insults Julie by explaining that his story about wanting to die for her as a child was a lie and that indeed, he only wanted to have sex with her when he saw her in the garden as a young boy.
Having successfully seduced Julie, Jean now also has the power to humiliate and shame her for her “unnatural,” brazen sexuality. In addition to calling her a “whore” he further humiliates her by explaining that he lied about being in love with her, and therefore their entire sexual encounter was based on false information and false trust.
Jean explains that he told Julie the romantic story because it is the kind of thing that women like. Indeed, Jean adapted his tale from the story of a chimney sweep who committed suicide when he was sued by his child’s mother for failing to pay child support. Julie is disgusted by Jean, calling herself “the first branch” he needed to climb to achieve his own success.
The fact that Julie fell for Jean’s overly romantic and “feminine” story is another example of the ways that her “natural” female instincts were exploited by Jean, leading to her downfall. Yet again, Strindberg flatly portrays men as naturally superior to women in the “sexual aristocracy.”
Jean doesn’t stand for Julie’s insults. He shames her, calling her a “whore” and telling her that she behaved more brazenly than any servant would have in pursuing sex with Jean. Julie relents, telling Jean that she deserves his insults and is, in fact, a “wretched creature.”
Jean further shames Miss Julie by reminding her that sexual aggressiveness is only a trait acceptable for servant women. By being so sexually aggressive, he suggests, she has lost her right to command Jean as a member of the upper class. Without the dominance afforded by her title, Miss Julie can only define herself based on Jean’s insults, so she agrees that she is “wretched.”
Julie begs Jean to help her escape and Jean momentarily softens. Jean says that he claims his own part in seducing Julie and that it “saddens him” to see a noble woman fallen so low that she is more wretched than her staff: a “fall flower turned into mud.” Julie tells Jean that he speaks to her as if he is already better than she is. He agrees, telling her “I could’ve made a countess of you but you could never make me a count.” Julie disagrees, explaining that she is the daughter of the count, which Jean can never be.
In addition to being patronizing, Jean’s “sadness” at Julie’s descent indicates his respect for the structures of nobility, even as he disdains the people it protects. In addition, Jean claims that he “could’ve made a countess” of Julie, reminding her that he could buy a noble title and pass it on to his children while she, a woman, has no right over title or lineage. Therefore, Jean attempts to assert his superiority as a self-made man over Julie and her inherited aristocracy.
Julie calls Jean a thief. Jean is not offended. He tells Miss Julie that, as an employee of her house, he is, in a sense, a member of the family, so it cannot be theft if he “helps himself” to some of the house’s goods.
Softening again, Jean tells Miss Julie that she is too good for him and has convinced herself she is in love with him to cover up allowing herself to sleep with him. Jean tells Miss Julie that she is beautiful and that there is a world in which he could see himself falling in love with her. Jean attempts to kiss Miss Julie again but she refuses, telling him that he cannot “win her” that way.
Strindberg wrote in the preface that Julie and Jean could potentially love each other if they had been members of the same social class. However, Julie has been thoroughly humiliated by Jean which has made her defensive and suspicious of his sudden kindness and affection.
Following his attempted kiss, Miss Julie becomes angry again, telling Jean she hates him like a “rat.” Jean tells Miss Julie that they must escape, but Julie insists that they have to talk more before they go. Becoming increasingly drunk, Julie tells Jean the story of her own upbringing. Miss Julie’s mother was a commoner, brought up with ideas about women’s equality and independence. Miss Julie’s mother disdained the idea of marriage but agreed to the Count’s proposal all the same.
Julie’s “man-hating” nature is another consequence (in Strindberg’s mind) of her “unnatural” upbringing. Indeed, Strindberg believed that ideas about female equality and autonomy had the power to biologically corrupt women to the point where they had no ability to live happily in the world. The intense mood swings in the dynamic between Jean and Julie are perhaps representative of the toxic codependency that exists between the rich and the poor in society at large.
Julie says that she was born “against her mother’s wish” and raised in a “state of nature”: learning everything that a male child would, dressing as a boy, and learning to ride horses and hunt. All across their estate, men and women shared equally in the work, which led their family to be the laughingstock of the province.
Here, Strindberg suggests that a classless society is as “unnatural” as a genderless society. In this way, he builds his argument that Julie is unfit for life because she had no sense, growing up, of her natural place in the world with respect to her femaleness and nobility.
Eventually, the Count rebelled against his wife’s ideas and took control over his house. Julie’s mother became incredibly ill, often hiding away all day and staying out all night. Then Julie’s farm burned down mysteriously the night their insurance expired. Julie’s family lost everything, but her mother insisted that they ask her friend, a bricklayer, for the money to rebuild. The Count agreed, but was not allowed to pay interest on the loan, and the house was built again.
When the Count rebelled, and became the master of his house once more, he also re-instituted the “sexual aristocracy” which places men in control of their wives. Julie’s mother was unable to live in a submissive position to a man, and therefore got physically ill. Here, Strindberg is arguing that female autonomy is so unnatural that it has biologically negative effects on “degenerate” women.
Miss Julie explains that the bricklayer was her mother’s lover and the money to rebuild had been her own fortune that she had invested with her lover instead of allowing her husband to control of it. However, the bricklayer kept her money and the Count could not prove it had been his wife’s money for fear of the scandal caused by admitting she was having an affair. Miss Julie explains that this was her mother’s revenge for the Count taking control of his house back.
In addition to getting physically ill from the fight against her “natural” submissiveness, Julie’s mother’s desire to get “revenge” on her husband is an overtly misogynistic detail, casting autonomous women as evil creatures who desire not merely the right to make decisions for themselves, but to cuckold and destroy the men in their lives.
Miss Julie tells Jean that her father almost killed himself but eventually got “a new lease on life” and her mother eventually died. Miss Julie explains that she did not understand the circumstances of their bankruptcy as a child, so she took her mother’s side because she had been brought up to hate and suspect all men. Miss Julie promised her mother that she would never be a man’s slave.
Julie’s blind acceptance of her mother’s side of the story supports Strindberg’s thesis that “half-women” succeed in passing their unnatural ideas onto their offspring, turning them into members of an “indeterminate sex” who hate men instead of seeking to nurture and support them (which Strindberg saw as the natural female imperative).
Miss Julie explains that she got engaged to her former fiancé, the county attorney, to make him her slave. Far from disdaining the idea, the attorney welcomed being submissive to Miss Julie, but Julie eventually got tired of his willingness to submit to her and broke the engagement.
The county attorney is an example of the kind of “degenerate” man that Strindberg refers to in the preface, whom “half-women” convince to “breed” with them.
Julie tells Jean that she hates men unless “the weakness” comes over her, and would kill all men like dogs. Yet, she asks Jean to run away with her to Lake Cuomo in Italy to enjoy themselves for a week time and then die together.
By asking Jean to run away and die with her, Julie indicates that she already understands that her reputation has been tainted beyond repair, leaving her with few options for escape but in death.
Jean disagrees, telling Julie he doesn’t want to die; he merely wants to start his hotel. Jean says that he wants to live both because he looks forward to the possibilities of his life and also because suicide is a sin. Miss Julie believes that Jean is bluffing by saying that he believes in God. Jean tells her that he goes to church every Sunday. Suddenly, Jean tells her he is tired and is going to bed.
Without the burdens of honor and nobility holding him back, Jean is free to focus solely on pursuing his professional goals by any means necessary. According to Strindberg, Jean’s comment that suicide is a sin shows that despite his status as a liberated “new man,” he still has the “slave” mentality of believing in God.
Miss Julie tries to stop Jean from leaving, chastising him for disavowing her after he has seduced her. Jean counters her, explaining that she was the seducer, even though there is no legal punishment for women who seduce men.
Here, Strindberg indicates that one of the ways that “half-women” control men is by seducing them and then pretending that they have been taken advantage of. Jean laments the lack of legal precedent for punishing women for this behavior.
Julie suggests that they could escape scandal by going abroad and then getting married and divorced, but Jean refuses to conspire with her, claiming that he has purer ancestry than she does, since none of his ancestors committed arson. Jean says that, because he has no ancestry at all, he has the ability to start his own line, as opposed to being a slave to the sins of his ancestors like Julie is.
Jean’s freedom from the burden of ancestry (and his ancestor’s crimes) supports Strindberg’s thesis that he is indeed “a new man” who relies solely on his merit and resourcefulness to achieve his goals, escape servitude, and start his own familial line.
Julie again laments the seduction, claiming that it would be better if Jean loved her. Jean refuses to be Miss Julie’s slave like her fiancé had been. Julie begs Jean to tell her what to do and he admits that he has no idea of that himself.
Jean’s refusal to submit to Miss Julie suggests that, unlike her fiancé, he is not a “degenerate” man, but possesses the “natural” male impulse to dominate and lead. Of course this idea would seem backwards to most readers today, but it is what Strindberg set out to illustrate in writing this “naturalist tragedy.”
Jean suggests that no one will know what has happened if Julie does not tell anyone. Miss Julie knows that to be false, asking Jean what will happen to the “results” of their sexual contact. Jean tells her that the only solution is for Julie to travel abroad by herself before the Count comes back and finds out what has happened. Jean refuses to run away with Julie himself, since running away together would certainly cause a scandal.
The “results” that Julie refers to, coupled with Jean’s discussion of “fathering counts,” is likely a reference to the possibility that Julie may already be pregnant. Indeed, if Diana the dog’s fate truly foreshadows Miss Julie’s, it is plausible to assume that Jean has impregnated Julie. However, Christine also tells Jean that Miss Julie is on her period, suggesting that Strindberg may not have understood how women’s reproductive systems function.
Miss Julie cries that she is “trapped,” with nowhere to go and no way to stay. Jean is derisive, telling Julie that he will give her orders so that she can find out how it feels to be a servant. Jean tells Julie to go prepare herself to travel. She exits.
Julie’s feeling of entrapment mimics the end of her recurring dream, in which she is caught at the top of a pedestal with no way to get down without jumping.
Christine enters, dressed to go to church. She chastises Jean for the messy state of the kitchen and reminds him that he promised to go to church with her. Jean laments having to go to church since he stayed up all night talking to Miss Julie.
Christine surmises that Julie and Jean have slept together. She tells Jean that she is not angry with him because it was not one of the other servant girls. Instead, Christine is angry at Jean for taking advantage of Miss Julie’s peculiar personality and behavior. Christine tells Jean that she cannot stay in a house working for people that she has no respect for. Miss Julie threatened to have her own dog shot for running around with the gatekeeper’s pug, but she debases herself by sleeping with a member of the servant class.
Much like the dancing at the beginning of the play, Christine’s refusal to be jealous of Miss Julie indicates her strict adherence to the rules of the social hierarchy, which prohibits her from viewing Miss Julie as an equal in any way. However, Christine disdains Miss Julie for the hypocrisy of her behavior—an example of what Strindberg believed to be the self-congratulatory piety and morality of the lower classes.
Christine councils Jean that he should find a “respectable” job since they will soon be married. Jean argues that he will not be “dying all at once for the sake of a wife and children,” suggesting that he has better plans for his future. Jean tells Christine that they have plenty of time to discuss their life together and that she should get ready for church. They hear footsteps walking around upstairs and Christine wonders if the Count has come home early without anyone noticing. Jean dismisses the idea and Christine exits.
Jean’s refusal to compromise or “die” for the sake of his marriage is another example of Strindberg’s belief that true “new” men should only be responsible to themselves. This highlights a misogynistic double-standard, since Strindberg presents Miss Julie’s desire for the same degree of self-determination to be unnatural and even evil.
Miss Julie re-enters, dressed for traveling and carrying a cage with her prized canary. The sun has risen and Julie is incredibly nervous. Jean tells her that Christine is awake, but he lies by saying that Christine suspects nothing of Julie and Jean’s tryst. Julie begs Jean to travel with her, telling him that she has enough money to support them, having stolen it from her father’s safe.
In the light of day, Julie is confronted with the reality of her situation and is nervous and unsettled. Far from retaining any of the confident self-possession of Midsummer’s Eve, she is now desperate to escape, having dishonored her father by stealing from him and desperate for Jean to give her direction.
Jean agrees only if Julie leaves the canary behind, since it will weigh them down. Julie says that her canary is her only comfort after her dog “deserted her.” She tells Jean that he must kill it rather than abandon it. Jean complies, cutting the canary’s head off with an axe.
Much like the dog, Julie’s canary is a metaphor for Julie herself. An ornamental bird who has been domesticated and deprived of its natural instincts, the canary is not able to protect itself and therefore, much like Julie, must die.
Julie becomes hysterical at the sight of her dead bird. She screams at Jean to kill her as well, cursing Jean and his entire sex. She screams that she wishes to see his whole sex “swimming in blood” and to “eat” his heart.
Sensing that her end may soon approach as swiftly as her bird’s, Julie’s “degenerate” side again attempts to re-assert itself against her growing submissiveness. The result is an angry and unhuman tirade which suggests that Strindberg (as his preface indicates) views “half-women” as monstrous, non-human creatures.
Julie tells Jean that she will not run away with him to become “Mrs. Hovel” and be the mistress of her servant. Instead, Julie resolves to tell the Count that she slept with a servant and stole money from him to secure her escape. Miss Julie says that the shock will kill her father and end their tainted bloodline, earning them “eternal rest.”
In another attempt to survive, Julie attempts to reassert her nobility and sense of personal honor. However, she does so at the expense of her family, whose bloodline she vows to end by humiliating her father to death. Julie’s very humanity, it seems, is crushed by the burden of her ancestry.
Christine re-enters and Julie begs her to “protect” her against Jean as a woman and as her friend. Christine coldly refuses, chastising both Julie and Jean for their conduct on the Sabbath. Christine says that she does not care that Julie and Jean have slept together, but she vows to put a stop to any of their plans to run away together.
By stopping Julie and Jean from running away together Christine proves herself to be, as Strindberg explains, “full of servility and sluggishness.” Unlike Jean, Christine does not have the vision to recognize her own worth, and therefore is destined to continue as a “slave,” contributing to the outdated hierarchy of the aristocracy and limiting “new men” like Jean from achieving their goals.
Miss Julie tries to convince Christine to run away with her and Jean, telling her that the three of them could live happily running the hotel together. Julie tells Christine that she must get out and travel in the world to see the beauty all around her.
Julie retreats into her imagination to craft a story in which escape is possible, forgetting the reality of her social positon and irrevocably tarnished reputation.
Christine asks Julie if she truly believes the story that the three of them could happily live together. Julie tells Christine, exhausted, that she “no longer believe[s] in anything.” Jean re-enters (having been behind a curtain sharpening his razor) and Christine confronts him for planning to run away with Miss Julie. Jean chastises her for speaking disrespectfully to her “mistress” and urges her to have more respect for herself.
Julie’s admission that she “no longer believes in anything” indicates that her continual “fight against nature” has left her confused and untethered to the reality of both society and her own life. On the other hand, by telling Christine to respect her “mistress,” Jean further indicates that he is superior to Christine and therefore has the power to chastise her.
Christine counters that she has plenty of respect herself, but Jean chides her for shaming him and Miss Julie for having sex when Christine herself uses her feminine charms to secure deals on meat and other goods from the butcher and other members of the Count’s staff.
Christine urges Jean to come to church with her and to use the sermon to cleanse his soul of sin. Jean refuses, telling Christine to pray for herself. Christine tells him that she will “bring enough forgiveness back” to cover Jean’s soul, as well.
Jean’s rejection of Christine’s religious moralism proves that Julie and Jean’s predicament is philosophical and sociological instead of religious or emotional.
Julie asks Christine if she truly believes in God. Christine answers that she has always believed that God’s grace abounds, but only for those who do good. In Christine’s opinion, God favors those who are “last” in society (the working class), but does not extend his grace to the rich. Indeed, she says, it is “easier for a camel to thread the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.” Christine vows to leave the Count’s estate, and she does so after telling the gatekeeper to stop either Julie or Jean from escaping.
Christine’s prescriptive idea about who deserves God’s grace is another example of the way that Strindberg believes members of the working class use piety to elevate themselves while judging and subjugating others. Importantly, because Strindberg believes the true measure of personal worth to be intelligence and self-possession, Christine’s reliance on God for her self-worth is presented as short-sighted and weak.
Beaten down, Julie asks Jean if he can see any way to escape, begging him to put himself in her place. Jean picks up his razor, explaining that as a fallen noble woman, there is only one option. Julie takes the razor from his hand and slashes the air twice. Jean clarifies that he would not kill himself because he is a man, but that for Julie, a dishonored woman, suicide is the only option.
Jean’s ability to dictate the terms of Julie’s suicide is the ultimate indication that he has achieved full sexual and emotional dominance over her. In addition, Jean makes sure to present Julie’s suicide in gendered terms, proving that while men (like Julie’s father) can remake their lives after scandal, women have no control over their own reputations and therefore must kill themselves in disgrace.
Julie tells Jean that she is not strong enough to kill herself, just like the Count before her. Julie sees her suicide as an extension of her mother’s revenge against her father, and she wonders whose fault her suicide is, blaming her mother for an unnatural upbringing and her fiancé for indulging her ideas of female equality. Whoever’s fault it is, Julie agrees that she is the one who must now bear the blame.
In searching for someone to blame for her death, Julie lists all the contributing “factors” that Strindberg outlines in the preface, including her mother’s “unnaturalness,” her father’s weakness, and her fiancé’s “corrupting influence.” In this way, she is shown to be a victim of the aristocracy more than anything.
Julie and Jean hear two rings of the bell upstairs, signaling that the Count has indeed returned unnoticed. The Count calls to Jean to bring his boots and his coffee upstairs in a half an hour. Julie is terrified, claiming that she has no time to run away or repent in a half an hour. She begs Jean to command her to end to her life, but Jean explains that he no longer has any power to command Julie or himself. Having heard the Count’s voice again, Jean is returned to a “menial” state. He tells Julie that if the Count came downstairs and “ordered [him] to slit his own throat,” he would obey.
The Count’s return reestablishes the class hierarchy within his home and strips Jean of his sense of power, which cannot measure up to the power of the Count’s social station. Importantly, the Count’s presence has an equally stark effect on both Julie and Jean, reminding Jean of his duties to his social class and Julie of her duties to (and betrayal of) her family’s honor.
Miss Julie begs Jean to pretend to be the Count and muster the resolve of a nobleman to “hypnotize” her and give her orders. Miss Julie says that she is “asleep” and that the whole room has filled with smoke, referring to Jean as a man made of ash with eyes like coals.
Jean whispers orders in Julie’s ear and she thanks him. Julie asks Jean if she will also receive God’s grace, contrary to what Christine said about rich men not receiving heavenly forgiveness. Jean says he cannot tell her something he doesn’t not believe. He begs Julie to leave because her indecision is rubbing off on Jean, making him “a coward.”
Although the audience cannot hear what Jean whispers to Julie, it becomes clear that he has commanded her to take her own life. It remains unclear what the consequences of Julie’s suicide will be for Jean, but it’s likely that by encouraging her to commit suicide, he is protecting himself—without any regard for the life of this “unnatural” woman.
The Count rings the bell again from upstairs and Jean orders Julie through the door. Miss Julie exits resolutely, presumably to end her life.
The fact that Julie follows Jean’s command at the sound of her father’s bell reflects a reversal of the power dynamic that initiated the play: Julie has, in the play’s final moment, become the servant. Meanwhile, Jean is left unaffected—and, if Strindberg’s preface is any indication, is free to eventually escape servitude and achieve his personal and professional dreams.