DOCTOR. There are many different kinds of women, you know.
CAPTAIN. Recent research has shown there’s only one! (Act II, Sc. 4, p. 31)
The Father (1887) is the earliest Strindberg play I read. It is a good place to start to see the great Strindberg theme of the battle of the sexes. Just blatant open warfare.
PASTOR. You’ve too many women running your home.
CAPTAIN. You can say that again! It’s like being in a cage full of tigers. If I didn’t keep a red-hot iron in front of their noses they’d tear me to pieces the first chance they got! (I.3, 6)
The Captain lives in a house of women – wife, daughter, childhood nurse (see above) who is a substitute mother figure, mother-in-law (who never sets foot on stage), and numerous servants. And however hyperbolic he sounds, the Captain is right. He and his wife Laura compete for the affection of their daughter. The wife wins by having her husband sent to a mental institution. Perhaps she has actually driven him insane, or perhaps she has merely convinced the law he is crazy. Also possible is that he was essentially insane already; his own weakness has destroyed him with his wife just giving him the slightest tap over the edge. The mother is a first-rate villain, a monster. Yet perhaps the family is better off rid of the father.
Technically, this is an exercise in manipulating sympathy. The father starts at a high level, the mother low; there is a modest attempt to increase sympathy for the mother, but mostly Strindberg systematically destroys sympathy for the father. I have been reading Bleak House, where the standard Dickens (Trollope, Eliot, etc.) move is to create sympathy for the most unlikely characters. Strindberg is helping found the great Modernist tradition of literature with only horrible characters.
CAPTAIN [gets up]. Get out, woman! To hell with you, you witches!... Get out, woman! At once!
NURSE. Lord preserve us, what’s going to happen now?
CAPTAIN. [puts on cap and equips himself to go out]. Don’t expect me home before midnight! [Exits
NURSE. Sweet Jesus, help us, how is this all going to end? (I.9, 23-4)
A naïve Strindberg reader, that is just what I was asking! Not now, though. As he grows mad, the Captain begins to transform himself into a character in a tragedy, as if he realizes he is in a play, or as if his madness requires dramatization. The Father is often considered one of Strindberg’s “realistic” and Naturalist plays, but the range of literary reference suggests something else.
The CAPTAIN enters with a pile of books under his arm.CAPTAIN [puts the books on the table]. It’s all here in these books, every one of them. So I wasn’t mad! (Act III.5., 45)
I am making The Father sound a bit more like Pirandello than it really is, but it is a bit like Pirandello. And I see that in this scene, the Captain is on the wrong track, furiously leafing through the Odyssey, Ezekiel, and Pushkin, when what he needs is Aeschylus. Well, he figures it out in the end, that he is Agamemnon (or Othello) while his wife is Clytemnestra (or Iago), when it is far too late.