Can there be a conversation between people with just one speaker? August Strindberg’s The Stronger manages to tell a whole story with a conversation that seems one-sided on the surface with only Mrs. X speaking. However, this is not the case because of how the piece is written. I love how Strindberg writes in just enough action for Miss Y that Mrs. X is able to make her own assumptions on Miss Y’s responses without her actually responding.
Though I love all the pieces chosen, I decided to write about The Stronger, because I’d never worked with it before and the silent character intrigued me. Some people assume that it would be too much of a handicap to write a story where one of the two characters is silent, but Strindberg uses Miss Y’s actions like nodding, laughing, and other gestures to prompt an assumption from Mrs. X and provide a stronger visual of the scene overall.
I also enjoy the comparison of someone talking to God that the piece creates. Strindberg does this by having Miss Y be silent while Mrs. X is conversing with her. Mrs. X has to interpret different gestures that Miss Y gives off to come to her own conclusions just like people have to interpret God’s responses to them through his signs he gives them. At the beginning of the piece Mrs. X gives off the impression of that she isn’t that sure of her marriage. She approaches a friend of hers, who’s single and has taught her things in the past, when looking for a friend to talk about her suspicions with. This is revealed when Miss Y starts laughing as Mrs. X starts talking about her relationship with her husband:
And you see he’s true to me. Yes, I’m sure of that, because he told me himself–what are you laughing at?–that when I was touring in Norway that that brazen Frêdêrique came and wanted to seduce him! Can you fancy anything so infamous? [Pause.] I’d have torn her eyes out if she had come to see him when I was at home. [Pause.] It was lucky that Bob told me about it himself and that it didn’t reach me through gossip. [Pause.] But would you believe it, Frêdêrique wasn’t the only one! I don’t know why, but the women are crazy about my husband (Strindberg 2).
She then starts to come to her own conclusions while mulling through Miss Y’s relationship with her and her husband:
You can never keep a man’s love with your tulips and your passions–but I can keep it. You can’t learn how to live from your authors, as I have learned. You have no little Eskil to cherish, even if your father’s name was Eskil. And why are you always silent, silent, silent? I thought that was strength, but perhaps it is because you have nothing to say (Strindberg 4)!
Mrs. X came to the conclusion that Miss Y was having an affair with her husband, but that no longer mattered because her husband chose her in the end. Mrs. X believed herself to be the stronger one since she was to be able to acknowledge this affair but still continue to be with her husband. Considerablespeck.blogspot.com, also make the argument that Mrs. X and Miss Y can be comparable to a person talking to God. They even bring up the concept of Miss Y as a human mirror or sound board for Mrs. X to bounce ideas off in her own thought process.
I also appreciate the two different life style choices portrayed for women with Mrs. X and Miss Y and the fact we don’t actually know what Miss Y was thinking. Therefore, it’s up to the audience to determine who was the stronger one of the two. This leads me to my first class question: Who is the stronger of the two women and why? This answer will probably divide the class room because Strindberg leaves it open to audience interpretation. One side could argue it’s Mrs. X, because she’s able to move past the fact her husband had an affair and continue the relationship even though he initially broke her trust by cheating on her. The other side would argue Miss Y because she’s able to maintain her chosen silence even when being accused of having an affair with a married man. Strindberg doesn’t reveal Miss Y’s actual thoughts so I can’t for sure say who the stronger women was; I can only inference Miss Y’s thoughts from her gestures and what Mrs. X had to say.
My other question would be: How are gender roles represented in the play? The play shows the two different roles women can have in society: married woman and single woman. Mrs. X is portrayed as the married women, who has conformed to the role of taking care of the kids and doing the housework. This is shown by her picking up gifts for the kids and adding the tulips to her husband’s shoes. Miss Y is portrayed as the single women, who lives her own life doing whatever she wants. This is shown by having her relaxing and reading a magazine alone on Christmas Eve, while a typical married woman would be rushing around trying to get the house ready for the holiday. Mrs. X having the only dialogue in the play works to empower the married women role, especially when she’s tearing down Miss Y’s lifestyle at the end of the play.
Strindberg created an interesting dynamic between Mrs. X and Miss Y as well as the mystery of who was the stronger woman. I like that he leaves the piece open ended like that because it allows for more discussion of the piece.
Falstaff, Speckone, Speck 42. “Review – Strindberg’s ‘The Stronger.’” A Considerable Speck, 8 June 2005, http://considerablespeck.blogspot.com/2005/06/review-strindbergs-stronger.html. Accessed 5 May 2017.
Strindberg, August. The Stronger. 1889.
“Strindberg’s THE STRONGER w/ Bret Crain & Christina Dow (Pt 1 of 2).” YouTube, uploaded by DevilDogTV, 20 Dec. 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNxBzw6vvYM&spfreload=1
“Strindberg’s THE STRONGER w/ Bret Crain & Christina Dow (PT 2 of 2).” YouTube, uploaded by DevilDogTV, 20 Dec. 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfsxT-9969U&t=191s