The late of the nineteenth-century and the early of the twentieth-century has been witnessed many cultural changes throughout the world under the industrialism and capitalism which increased human’s agony. As Matthew Arnold described that “the Old has passed away: but, alas, the New appears not its stead”. Science and technology developed rapidly during the late nineteenth-century, which they displaced religion and theological thinking among people. The scientists and philosophers developed their works against religious doctrine at that time.
Philosophers began to ask Protestant or Roman Catholic, are we all to be sure, God was in his heaven and all was well on earth? As Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) Origin of Species (1859) was against biblical belief that Man created by God, but what Darwin says is that everything begin from earth and every species struggle for survive there is no place for God. (Habbib, 2011)
Fredrick Nietzsche (1844-1900) declared in 1872, God was dead. The situation was far worse, it is not only God was now dead but he was nonexistent, had never been, and could not be. Thus God was vanished away in the hearts of many educated Europeans only remained as a habit to go to church and worshiped Him because faith had lost its value. Before the nineteenth century, people believe that God is the Great Artificer or Lawgiver of the Universe but now they ask whether He exist or not, if he exist so why He does nothing dealing with human’s agony on earth under the rules of capitalism and industrialism? (Dahlström, 1962)
Darwin’s and Nietzsche’s theory of the absence of God destroyed the psyche of most of people in general because, previously they thought that there is someone above them who can protect them and care about their sorrows. But now these beliefs turn to doubt. So the age needs a psychoanalyst to show their problems and how to deal with it. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) who was the influential figure in the late nineteenth-century until present day, he was being famous with publication of ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ (1900) According to Freud’s ideas, the outside world has the major role in creating or destroying human’s life especially affects the inner life of Man. (Bressler, 2011)
Another side which affected writers is urbanization and industrialism. After industrial revolution people immigrated to big industrial cities so as to work in the factories. This creates over population and mass of security. Also raised capitalism and social classes, which makes working class poorer and upper class richer because of having machines in the factories workers paid less than before.
So, with the development of human’s agony under industrialized society which devaluate individuals especially lower or working class and the influence of above theories make writers to have a response in their works and to appear a movement named Expressionism. August Strindberg’s play A Dream Play (1907) is about human agonies under industrialized society and the absence of God or the powerless of God to deal with it.
2- Expressionism as a movement
Expressionism generally appeared in Europe in the late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century as a reaction against industrialized society which works with urbanization and capitalism to devaluate human beings. It reached the pick just before the World War I and after war in 1925. (Galens, 2002)
The term was first appeared in Germany to describe these painters’ works which was free from using techniques of impressionists and they have their own experimental techniques, these techniques exist from their inner suppressed desires in the mind. They usually show individuals under the injustice lows of capitalistic societies. They deliver their message by using dreams, exaggeration, primitivism, and fantasy. (Yaganeh, 2006)
Expressionists reject the forms and rules of writing for example imagery, syntax, punctuation and sometimes rules from grammar, they believe that these rules can be disjoined to suit the purpose. Also their writings can be considered as a reaction against realism because they want to show the inner psychological realities rather than outer this can be seen in Strindberg’s A Dream Play. (Cuddon, 2013)
Frantz Kafka (1883-1924) as an example of Expressionist who influenced by Nietzsche and Strindberg; his works were famous by expressing the sense of alienation. Also August Strindberg (1849-1912) was known as a “Father of Expressionism”, in his plays he deals with humanity’s misery and search for meaning in life. And others like George Trakle, George Kaiser, and Eugene O’Neill.
3- Expressionism in theatre
As expressionism first appeared in Germany, among the well-known German playwrights was George Kaiser, his plays such as From Morn to Midnight (1916) considered as an expressionist play because the play is symbolic story of the protagonist who searches for happiness through wealth but from the end he realizes that he had misguided, usually the protagonists in his plays search the meaning from life but they find nothing, so these characters often commit suicide.
Expressionist Dramatists want to choose their characters from different types of human instead individualized characters, so as they can easily replace the plot for the sake of theme and express emotional states. In their style of writing usually they use fragmented style, and incoherent sentences or phrases. Also their language contains many repetitions and echoes. (Abrams, 1999)
German expressionism techniques have influenced other writers throughout the world, for example, in America Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape (1923) in which the protagonist searches his identity because he is neglected by the society so he prefers to live with apes, Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine (1923), and Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth (1942). (Yeganeh, 2006)
Thus, expressionism as a movement gave a new approach to the theatre, its aim was to reveal the inner psychology of the character who wants to finds him/ her (self) in the chaotic world, and it influences the emotional state of the audience and makes them to raise questions about the meaning of life in general.
4- A August Strindberg as an expressionist dramatist
August Strindberg (1849-1912) Swedish playwright, poet, essayist, novelist, and painter; was lived between two great historical events, he born before industrial revolution and died two years before the World War II. The period that he lived characterized by the progression in science and technology which they stand side by side against religion. (Morgan, 1985)
Strindberg’s childhood was marked by “emotional insecurity, poverty, religious fanaticism and neglect” as he showed in his autobiographical novel ‘A Son of Servant’. He faced struggle and poverty form his youth, his misogyny ideas about women that they are only a link between father and children, leads to his unsuccessfulness in three marriages; so he suffered a lot, that’s why his plays are somewhat bewilderingly between realist, naturalist, symbolist, expressionist, surrealist, existentialist, and absurdist.
His financial difficulties and separating from Frida in 1894 leads him to his inferno struggle and suffer from feeling loneliness. Before the Inferno crises, the protagonists in his plays are primarily in conflict with each other; The Father and Miss Julie belong to this period, which was closely connected with naturalism. After the Inferno crisis, the protagonists are more in conflict with themselves and with the supernatural than with each other; To Damascus I, A Dream Play and The Ghost Sonata are the most famous plays in this period. As a playwright he always wished that his plays depict the inner reality of the character and to be performed on the stage. (Törnqvist and Steene, 2007)
4- B The elements of expressionism in A Dream Play
A Dream Play was first published in 1902, it is out-come of Strindberg’s personal crisis, his unsuccessful relationship with his third wife, Harriet leads him to physical pain and mental suffering. The play, called by Strindberg “the child of my greatest pain” and it explores the dark side of his mind. He reveals his agony mostly throughout the play by revealing the characters agony.
As he mentioned from the preface of the play that the play is dream-like in the sense that, place and time do not appear for example The Daughter says: “To the gods the year is as a minute.” The Doorkeeper replies: “While to human beings a minute may be as long as a year.” Also, “the characters split, double, multiply, vanish, solidify, blur, clarify. But one consciousness reigns above them all- that of the dreamer; and before it there are no secrets, no incongruities, no scruples, no laws, There is neither judgment nor exoneration, but merely narration”. (Strindberg, 1913)
If we look A Dream Play from Freud’s view, we discover that the writer uses unconscious mind to reveal the reality as Freud believes that “The Unconscious is the true reality of the psyche”. Toward the end of A Dream Play, the central character, Daughter, reveals about the reality of dreams: “Not reality, but more than reality. Not dreams, but waking dreams.” For Strindberg it is not simply a dream experienced during sleep but “a waking dream”. Strindberg also refers to Macbeth’s lines: “a tale told by an idiot” because as we know it has been said that hear the truth from a child or an idiot because both of them depend on their unconsciousness.