Miss Julie is a drama about class difference. From the moment the aristocratic Miss Julie allows herself to sleep with a servant, she has fallen from grace. In his preface, Strindberg addresses “the innate or acquired sense of honor that the upper classes inherit,” which he believed compelled the nobility to sacrifice everything to preserve their reputation, even if it meant losing their life. Julie therefore, falls victim to the inflexible idea of upper-class honor, which leaves her no other option than death. Because Jean has neither pedigree nor ancestry, however, he is able to use his own cultivated taste and breeding to ascend through the social ranks and achieve his goals.
Jean makes it clear to Julie that he believes pedigree and ancestry to be a trap that is imprisoning her. Because Julie’s ancestral line is marred in conflict and scandal, she has to spend her life in her family’s shadow. Jean, on the other hand, has no ancestors, and has the masculine advantage of being able to start his own family line. Jean tells Julie “I have read about your pedigree in a book that was lying on the drawing room table. Do you know who was your first ancestor? A miller who let his wife sleep with the king one night during the war with Denmark. I have no such ancestry. I have none at all, but I can become an ancestor myself.” This question of tainted pedigree is also mirrored at the beginning of the play when Christine explains that Julie ordered that her prized dog Diana should be shot after she was found playing with the gatekeeper’s pug. This detail suggests that Julie is keenly aware of the importance of breeding, even as she chooses to ignore her own in order to seduce Jean. Jean on the other hand, views his lack of pedigree as an opportunity. A self-made man, he constructs a pedigree for himself out of acquired characteristics: his superior taste in food and wine and his knowledge of languages, things that (despite his lack of monetary influence) will allow him to make money for himself and start a family of his own. When Julie asks him if he has money for train tickets to Italy, Jean responds “I have my expert knowledge, my vast experience, my familiarity with several languages, that is the very best kind of capital I should say.” What Jean lacks in inherited class, he makes up for in his resourcefulness, drive, and intelligence—all of which constitute a different kind of nobility.
Despite Jean’s insistence that his self-made nobility is superior to Julie’s inherited class, however, he continually reminds her that there are insurmountable social barriers between them, created by Julie’s inherent privilege. When Miss Julie insists that Jean call her Julie after they have sex because, “between us there can be no barriers hereafter,” Jean corrects her. He says, “There will be barriers between us as long as we stay in this house,” indicating that, while Jean believes himself to be personally and evolutionarily superior to Julie, their presence on the Count’s estate forces them into strict dominant and submissive roles that even their intimacy cannot undo. Nor does Julie have any true idea about Jean’s circumstance or the life he leads. Despite her insistence that she should talk to him as “an equal” and a “friend,” Julie only has a romantic notion of what it is like to be lower class. Jean asks, “Do you know how the world looks from below? No you don’t. No more than do hawks and falcons, of whom we never see the back because they are always floating above, high up in the sky.” In this way, he shows that she is unable to truly achieve equality with him in part because she knows nothing about the life he leads. This disconnect indicates that, while Julie wants to drink and cavort with her servants, she is not interested in the true nature of their misery, and while Jean strives to climb the social ladder, he knows that he will never truly ascend to Julie’s level of privilege.
Indeed, once Julie’s father, the Count, returns to his estate, Jean’s talk of his own nobility falters. In the face of his master, Jean is forced back into his role as a “menial,” and loses the ability to stand up for himself. Jean tells Julie that even without the Count’s physical presence, any reminders of him makes Jean feel like a servant again. He explains, “If I only catch sight of his gloves on the chair I feel small. If I only hear that bell up there I jump like a shy horse. And even now, when I see his boots standing there so stiff and perky, it’s as if something made my back bend.” When the Count returns and calls Jean to attend him, Jean loses all ability to command or dominate Julie. He exclaims, “I cannot command you—and now, since I’ve heard the Count’s voice—I can't quite explain it—but—Oh, that damned menial is back in my spine again. I believe if the count should come down here, and if he should tell me to cut my own throat—I'd do it on the spot!” Therefore, despite Jean’s repeated references to his superiority, both Jean and Julie find themselves subordinate in the Count’s dominating presence, which reminds Julie of the responsibilities of her pedigree and Jean of the duties of his station.
In his preface, Strindberg describes the sense of duty that the rich feel toward their pedigree as “the nobleman’s harakiri – or the law of inner conscience compelling the Japanese to cut open his own abdomen at the insult of another.” In Strindberg’s mind, Julie’s suicide is a personal hara-kiri. Blocked by Christine from escaping and certain that her father will die if he finds out about her disgrace, Julie chooses to die, sacrificing herself to preserve her father’s noble reputation. In Strindberg’s mind, Julie’s fate is inevitable precisely because, as a noblewoman, she has no recourse once she has been dishonored by Jean. Importantly, however, Strindberg sees this attachment to reputation as the reason that the European aristocrats are a dying breed. Because Jean is a commoner, unburdened by ancestry or wealth, he is able to survive his tryst with Miss Julie. Therefore, Strindberg suggests that eventually, the most adaptable and intelligent commoners (like Jean) will rise up to replace the aristocracy, while the nobility will, like Julie, die as a result of their inflexible concepts of honor and reputation.
Class Quotes in Miss Julie
It is this, the nobleman’s harikiri or the law of the inner conscience compelling the Japanese to cut open his own abdomen at the insult of another… for this reason the valet, Jean continues to live, but Miss Julie cannot live without honor.”
The young lady is too stuck up in some ways and not proud enough in others. Just as was the countess when she lived. She was most at home in the kitchen and among the cows, but she would never drive with only one horse.
Don't take it as a command. To-night we should enjoy ourselves as a lot of happy people, and all rank should be forgotten.
Take my advice, Miss Julie, don’t step down. Nobody will believe that you did it on purpose. The people will always say that you fell down.
I have a dream that comes back to me ever so often… I have climbed to the top of a column and sit there without being able to tell how to get down again. I get dizzy when I look down, and I must get down, but I haven’t the courage to jump off.
Do you know how the world looks from below no, you don't. No more than do hawks and falcons, of whom we never see the back because they are always floating about high up in the sky.
And I saw you walking among the roses, and I thought: if it be possible for a robber to get into heaven and dwell with the angels, then it is strange that a cotter's child, here on God's own earth, cannot get into the park and play with the count's daughter.
Well, it wouldn't be easy to repeat. But I was rather surprised, and I couldn't understand where you had learned all those words. Perhaps, at bottom, there isn't quite so much difference as they think between one kind of people and another.
No, Miss Julie, they don't love you. They take your food and spit at your back. Believe me
That's the life, I tell you! Constantly new faces and new languages. Never a minute free for nerves or brooding. No trouble about what to do-for the work is calling to be done: night and day.
There will be barriers between us as long as we stay in this house… there is the count – and I have never met another person for whom I felt such respect. If I only catch sight of his gloves on a chair I feel small. If I only hear that bell up there, I jump like a shy horse.
I? Of course! I have my expert knowledge, my vast experience, my familiarity with several languages. That's the very best kind of capital, I should say.
I think I read the story in a paper, and it was about a chimney-sweep who crawled into a wood-box full of lilacs because a girl had brought suit against him for not supporting her kid-.
You're the right one to come and tell me that I am vulgar. People of my kind would never in their lives act as vulgarly as you have acted tonight. Do you think any servant girl would go for a man as you did? Did you ever see a girl of my class throw herself at anybody in that way? I have never seen the like of it except among beasts and prostitutes.
Don't you see: I could have made a countess of you, but you could never make me a count.
But I have read about your pedigree in a book that was lying on the drawing-room table. Do you know who was your first ancestor? A miller who let his wife sleep with the king one night during the war with Denmark. I have no such ancestry. I have none at all, but I can become an ancestor myself.
…but there's after all some difference between one kind of people and another- No, but this is something I'll never get over – And the young lady was so proud, and so tart to the men, that you couldn't believe she would ever let one come near her-and such a one at that!
Command me, and I'll obey you like a dog! Do me this last favor – save my honor, and save his name! You know what my will ought to do, and what it cannot do-now give me your will, and make me do it!
I cannot command you – and now, since I've heard the count's voice – now – l can't quite explain it – but – Oh, that damned menial is back in my spine again. I believe if the count should come down here, and if he should tell me to cut my own throat – I'd do it on the spot!