August Strindberg's A Dream Play
August Strindberg wrote A Dream Play in 1901, a time in which women had few rights and a long road yet to travel in the fight to acquire equal rights with men. Given that Strindberg himself was a notorious misogynist, it is interesting to analyze the presentation and evolution of A Dream Play’s principle character: Indra’s Daughter. She travels from “the second world [and into] the third” (147, 17) by accident, but enters with optimism and faith in finding happiness in the human world. As she ventures further and further into the realm of human experience, not only does she not find happiness, but she finds that the tenacious desperation of humans is contagious, and that they have brought her to their own level of misery. Her only available course of action is to rid herself of their gloom and return to the heavens, but Strindberg weaves an ambiguous ending. As a woman, he may have been insinuating that she could not solve the problems of humanity and chose to abandon it instead, behavior which he may have considered to be typical of females. On the other hand, the image of the chrysanthemum blooming on the burning castle could be a symbol of hope, an affirmation that the Daughter has once again achieved her divinity and will come to the aid of the race she has seen suffering so profoundly.
Strindberg added the prologue of the play in 1906, prior to the first production of A Dream Play in 1907. It introduces the characters of Indra and his Daughter in a context that help to explain the consequent action of the play – it is made clear that Indra is a God, and we are shown how his Daughter falls into the lower world. She lacks any knowledge of this world, and in being completely ignorant of it she is proven pure and unbiased. Her father is a God that has become deaf to the plight of humanity, complaining that “those earthly beings are a bickering, badgering, ungrateful race.” (147, 62-63) Instead of listening to his analysis of humankind, his Daughter insists that he has misjudged them, and is set up by Strindberg as being naïve and obstinate. This seems, however, to be less of an intentionally sexist set-up than a necessary plot element. Indra’s Daughter could just have easily been Indra’s Son, but the plot wouldn’t make sense if the voyager into our world had as negative a pre-conceived notion of it as Indra.
The Daughter’s first approach is to take the suffering of the world upon herself, actively seeking it out and studying it. She is child-like; innocent and unaware of the possibility of changing as a consequence of learning how joyless this world Strindberg has created is. An exchange between her and the Officer embodies her initial feelings towards humans:
DAUGHTER: What do you see in me?
OFFICER: Beauty personified, the harmony of the universe. There are curves
and lines in your form and features that can’t be found anywhere else except