Despite their vast socioeconomic differences, Miss Julie and Jean come together out of a shared desire to escape their current circumstances. Jean, frustrated with life as a valet on the Count’s estate, dreams of a life managing his own hotel in Romania, while Julie seeks to hide from the pressures of her title, which require her to marry and start a family to continue her father’s line. However, the characters must seek their respective escapes in very different ways. Jean’s journey towards owning his hotel is an ascent out of poverty, while Julie, forever constrained by her nobility, can only escape by descending the social ladder, indulging in vice and promiscuity. Through his play Strindberg suggests that, in societies where class hierarchies are so strictly defined, freedom from the bonds of both servitude and wealth are equally impossible. Tainted by promiscuity, Julie is only able to escape judgement through suicide, and Jean is unable to assert his dominance any longer once Julie’s father returns to the estate. Therefore, despite their class difference, and the opposite paths that both characters take to try to escape, neither one can ever truly be free of the boundaries of their social class and the strict structure of their society.
Throughout the play, both characters view their escape in terms of climbing and falling. Each character expresses a desire to elevate themselves above their current state, but the risk of falling is ever present in their minds. For example, before they consummate their relationship, Miss Julie tells Jean about one of her recurring dreams. “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.” Julie’s dream is meant to be a foreshadowing of her plight at the end of the play. The column in her dream offers only a way up, but the slick sides mean that she does not have the means to get down without jumping, a decision that equates with death (thereby foreshadowing the end of the play). Jean, on the other hand, views his success as a giant tree. While Miss Julie starts at the top of her column and can’t get down, Jean sees himself under the tree with no way to begin his climb, since “the trunk is so thick and smooth and it is so far to the first branch. But I know that if I could only reach that first branch, then I should go right on to the top as on a ladder.” Ultimately, Miss Julie understands herself to be “the first branch” that Jean has to grab to secure his ascent towards his dreams of success, continuing to climb steadily like a ladder. As in her dream, however, Miss Julie has no clear way to escape the ruinous consequences of sleeping with a servant and is forced to take the jump to her death.
In addition to the heavy foreshadowing and metaphor in the text, Strindberg had specific requirements for how the play should be staged in order to heighten the feeling of confinement for the actors and the audience. Strindberg dictated that the whole play should take place in only a section of the kitchen so that the true size of the house can only be guessed at, and the only exits possible for Julie and Jean are up towards the main house or into Jean’s room. Therefore, when Julie and Jean are confronted with the chorus of servants who threaten to catch them drinking together, they are physically constrained by the set as much as emotionally constrained by their predicament. In addition, Strindberg explained that the table should be placed at a diagonal on the stage so that the actors “show full face and half profile to the audience when they sit at the table.” In contrast to the typical practice of placing actors at right angles to each other so that you only saw one character’s face at a time, Strindberg’s configuration increased the audience’s ability to pick up on even the most minute changes in the actor’s expressions or behaviors, which increased the claustrophobic nature of the play because it did not allow the audience to hide or detach from any of the action happening before them.
Both because of the confining nature of the set and the predictive nature of each character’s respective dream, escape ultimately proves not to be a positive thing. Far from helping Miss Julie to leave her world behind, Jean uses Julie’s disgrace to forge his own escape, leaving her sullied by her association with him and with no other option but to commit suicide to preserve her honor. Because of the lack of entrances and exits on the stage, Julie and Jean’s only option is to retreat into Jean’s room when the servants threaten to catch them drinking together. Jean explains “The mob is cowardly. And in such a fight there is nothing to do but run away.” However, by forcing Julie to “run away” into his bedroom, Jean is only allowing Julie to “escape” on his terms, knowing that by bringing her further into his world he is both preventing her from escape and potentially securing his own. Indeed, once they have consummated their relationship and Julie begs Jean to run away with her, he refuses, telling her instead that they must stay and live with the consequences of their actions. To further torment her, Jean parrots Julie’s fear from her dream back to her, “Fall down to me,” he tells her, “and I’ll lift you up again.” However, instead of lifting her up, Jean continues to block Julie’s pleas for help and cries for escape. Indeed, Jean ultimately instructs Julie to commit suicide not out of concern for her reputation, but out of fear that further association with her will block his own chance at escape as well. He yells, “Don’t think! Don’t think! Why, you are taking away my strength, too, so that I become a coward. […] It’s horrid,” he says, “but there’s no other end to it! – Go!”
In Jean’s final line, Strindberg encapsulates the ways in which both characters’ desires for escape only serve to trap them further within the duties of their social class. By attempting to champion her mother’s ideas about equality and class dissolution, and escape the confinement of aristocracy through sex with a servant, Julie instead shames herself and her family so completely that the only true escape from her shame is to kill herself and end an already scandal-ridden family line. On the other hand, while Jean pushes Julie to suicide in the hopes that it will give him the bravery he needs to finally leave the Count’s estate, his power and impetus to escape has already vanished the minute the Count returned home. In this way, Strindberg shows that, as much as it seems that Jean holds the power to trap and manipulate Julie according to his will, both characters are ultimately equally confined by their inflexible society.
Confinement and Escape ThemeTracker
Confinement and Escape Quotes in Miss Julie
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.
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.
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 can't leave! I can't stay! Help me! I am so tired, so fearfully tired. Give me orders! Set me going, for I can no longer think, no longer act –
That’s good and well, but it isn't my style to think of dying all at once for the sake of wife and children. I must say that my plans have been looking toward something better than that kind of thing
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!