Miss Julie

Natural Elements: An Exploration of Extramarital Sex and Class Division in Miss Julie

July 16, 2019 by Essay Writer

Strindberg recurrently uses symbolism drawn from nature to great effect throughout his play Miss Julie, accentuating the impact of the act of sexual intercourse on the shifting class divisions between Julie and Jean. The evocative imagery Strindberg uses as the play progresses highlights the protagonists’ deviation from the socially acceptable behavioural norms of the time. Already in the stage setting, the air is heavy with sexual tension. Egil Törnqvist (1999) writes, ‘To a Swede, the birch leaves in the kitchen indicate it is Midsummer, Midsummer Eve being the one day in the year when “all rank is laid aside”, when masters and servants come together – and when drinking and love-making are carnivalesque’ and ‘there is a link between the lilacs on the kitchen table and the lilac bushes outside, suggesting that the two groups share the same sexual needs (lilacs as aphrodisiacs). The combination of Cupid, lilacs and phallic-shaped poplars speaks for itself.’ Strategically placed symbols, which are repeated throughout the play, illustrate and provide added emphasis on the chasm between the social classes of the time contributed by the escalating seduction.

Near the offset, both Jean and Julie describe dreams, which are an immediate exposé of their desires in terms of class and thus success or personal freedom. Whilst Julie feels ‘dizzy’ at the ‘top of a high pillar’ due to her secluded position in society, Jean is ‘lying under a tree, in a dark forest’. The sense of being trapped in dense woodland creates an atmosphere of suffocation; being kept in the ‘dark’ reveals the extent to which Jean’s servant class limits his opportunities. He desires to ‘climb and climb’ higher up the tree to rob ‘the nest with the golden egg’, however ‘the trunk’s so thick, slippery, the first branch is too high, too high…’ The ‘slippery’ trunk may be perceived as a phallic symbol, with the ‘golden egg’ being a yonic representation of Julie’s pure virginity that he longs to ‘steal’. The nest symbolises female genitalia, enclosing an egg made of the most perfect metal gold, symbolic of rich treasure and status. Clearly, climbing the tree symbolises Jean’s desire to rise in society as well as a sexual act. According to Sigmund Freud (1920), ‘Ladders, ascents, steps in relation to their mounting, are certainly symbols of sexual intercourse.’ Through using the concept of theft, Strindberg also illustrates the forbidden nature of Jean’s desires. Stealing the innocent egg infers he will steal Miss Julie’s virginity through coition. The branch is part of Julie herself in this case. However it is too ‘high’ as she has not let herself ‘fall’ to the ‘ground’ yet; she has not lowered herself by consenting this act, which would result in her ‘falling from Grace’. It is further implied that Jean’s purportedly long-lived yearning to have sexual relations with Julie is in order to elevate his class through the sentence; ‘if we slept on nine midsummer flowers tonight, our dreams would come true’. Bestowing to Swedish tradition, it is said that if an unmarried woman picks seven or nine types of flowers and places them under their pillow, they will dream of their future husband1. However, as any audience of the time would have known, Julie marrying the servant would automatically spell her own social undoing. She would, indeed, ‘fall’ from her ‘pillar’ due to scandal even if Jean would gain a literal leg up from the branch he has not yet ‘grabbed’. Una Chaudhuri (1993) writes that ‘the crude symbolism of these dreams, their imagery of high and low, up and down, climbing and falling, offers a convenient and schematic key to interpreting the plot, inviting us to read the sexual encounter as a moment of class reversal’. There is a sense of inevitability through Jean’s belief that he will then ‘shin up the rest like a ladder’ and Julie’s overtly provocative interest in him as a man.

Religious symbols in relation to nature are also particularly telling in revealing Julie’s previous innocence, the ramifications of the sexual act on this chastity, and the division between the two characters’ class positions. Jean’s reminiscence on their childhood is a potent device used by Strindberg to highlight Julie’s juvenile purity and thus acknowledge the extent to which she will ‘fall’ after the act. Jean implies her wholesomeness through describing the white and scented ‘jasmine bushes’, the colour signifying this pureness. The description of Julie residing in ‘the Big House’ in ‘The Garden of Eden’ with ‘Apple trees’ suggests a biblical environment. Her statement that ‘all boys steal apples’ again implies inevitability in the sexual act to come, but further casts her as the temptress, Eve, guided by Satan. Jean’s reference to ‘The Tree of Life’ lends this first part of the play further heavy, biblical symbolism. The antithesis between the lush and bountiful ‘Garden of Eden’ and Jean’s youth – a ‘wasteland… not even a tree’ – colours the divide in class between the two characters.

The scent of flowers is used by Strindberg to emphasise the contrast in class divisions on several occasions. When Jean is recounting his hiding in the sweetly-scented Turkish pavilion before escaping through the stinking privy, Strindberg includes in his stage directions Jean breaking off a lilac twig and holding it out for Julie to smell, flowers that are sometimes said to symbolise youthful innocence, but which in Sweden (and by Strindberg himself in his preface) were considered aphrodisiacs. Anna Westerståhl Stenport (2012) considers this a ‘deodorising’ act. Nevertheless, Julie ‘has taken the lilac, and now lets it fall on the table’. This action could be seen as a willingness on her part to let herself ‘fall’ into the dirt. Jean describes how, when he watched Julie as a child in the ‘rose-garden’, he ‘dived into the compost heap… thistles, mud, stink’. Through this comparison, it is made clear that she is ‘higher up’ than him in terms of class whereas he is a ‘peasant’, not merely low in physical position, but in the filth, assaulted by the stench from his escape through human excrement and scratched by the thistles. As a young innocent child, Julie has not yet ‘fallen from grace’ and is still ‘pure’. However, once the sexual act has occurred, Jean describes Julie as ‘worthless’, illustrating this opinion with ‘I’m sorry you’ve sunk so low, lower than your own cook. I’m sorry the flowers are trampled, trampled in the autumn mud and rain’. It is evident here that the roles have reversed; the repetition of the metaphor of mud, now used to depict Julie’s social position instead of Jean’s, emphasises the extent to which inappropriate sexual relationships were once a significant determining factor in class position. Furthermore, the white flowers being ‘trampled in the mud’ denote the desecration of her purity and the fact that she has now joined Jean in the ‘dirt’.

The repetition of metaphors is especially prevalent with regards to Jean’s dream; in the first description, although it is implied that Julie is literally ‘his first branch’ to give him a ‘leg up’ in the class system, this concept is not yet fully portrayed. However, after the power balance has been overturned through the act of sexual intercourse, Julie has a revelation and realizes this truth with the very same image, saying ‘so I was your lowest branch’. Jean agrees without hesitation, with the reply ‘and how rotten this was!’ Not only was this act considered ‘rotten’, one may infer that this word was also used to depict decaying wood, therefore perhaps highlighting Strindberg’s view on Miss Julie ‘rotting’ and becoming damaged as a result of her ‘sin’. This image further reveals the deceptive gloss and hypocrisy of the upper classes and especially Julie, depicted as a feminist. Whilst a dying branch may look sturdy and polished at first glance, once stepped on it collapses, revealing its true fragile and impaired nature. In conjunction with Jean’s description of Julie’s feminist mother as having ‘manicured nails’, which are ‘black underneath’ and carrying a ‘dirty perfumed handkerchief’, Strindberg makes it clear here that class can be simply an illusion, as is the deception of decomposing wood of appearing stable on the outside.

In conclusion, the organic symbols used by Strindberg are indeed an efficacious mechanism that magnify the effect of extramarital sex on the shifting class divisions between both characters. Initially, it is revealed through their dreams that they are unsatisfied with their current societal positions and almost wish to ‘swap’ these with each other in order to grasp their goals. It is made evident that Jean’s view on achieving his climbing up the social ladder is through coition with Julie, revealed through the reference of her being his ‘first branch’. Symbols of religion are successfully used to provide a clear distinction between Julie’s previous upper-class purity and her later ‘filth’, thus increasing the effect of one act of sex on this aspect. Reiteration of botanical symbols further heightens this impact, foreshadowing the devastating fate of Julie as a consequence of her fall.


Chaudhuri, U., 1993. ‘Private Parts: Sex, Class and Stage Space in Miss Julie’. Theatre Journal 45 (317-332) The John Hopkins University Press

Freud, S., 1920 A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. New York, NY, US: Horace Liveright

1 https://graphicgarden.com/files17/eng/sweden/midsum1e.php

Stenport, W. A., 2012. The International Strindberg: New Critical Essays. Northwestern University Press

Törnqvist, E., 1999. Ibsen, Strindberg and the Intimate Theatre: Studies in TV Presentation. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press

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Naturalism in Miss Julie and Six Characters In Search of an Author

June 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

In not more than 300 words, make an analytical description of naturalism and one kind of anti-naturalism. In not more than 1200 words, demonstrate what each description might contribute to an understanding of one scene from ‘Miss Julie’, (pages 78 to 88) and one scene from ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author,’ (pages 39 to 48.) The term ‘naturalism’ takes in two concepts: that of a philosophical theory, and an artistic, or more specifically, theatrical movement. The philosophy behind naturalism is a product of post-Darwinism, and proposed that man belongs to the natural order, with no higher spiritual or religious aspirations. His character and fate is simply defined by heredity and environment. As Abrams puts it: “Man inherits his personal traits and his compulsive instincts, especially hunger and sex, and he is subject to the social and economic forces in the family, the class, and the milieu into which he was born.” (Abrams, 1993, p.175)Naturalism as a theatrical movement was an attempt to create, as Ibsen proposed, a ‘perfect illusion of reality.’ The theatre was to be made less artificial and more realistic – snubbing the stage conventions of the outmoded romantic tradition. In the preface to ‘Miss Julie,’ Strindberg laid out possibly the best manifesto of naturalistic theatre ever written. He set down proposals concerning the way in which theatrical concepts such as: dialogue, acting style, character depth, structure, scenery, setting, subject, and genre, could be adapted in order to be accommodated into the naturalist movement. Anti-naturalism is not a movement in its own right and as such cannot be defined specifically ­ it developed as a reaction against the naturalists, and takes various forms. Pirandello practises a different form to Brecht, whose Marxist theories claim that man shapes his own destiny, (a significant opposition to the naturalist philosophy,) while admitting that he does not do so in circumstances of his own choosing. Pirandello’s form of anti-naturalism uses naturalist conventions such as natural dialogue, and the removal of acts, while showing up its flaws and contradictions. An example of this is on page 39, when the Stepdaughter and Madame Pace converse in low, natural tones, and the Actors complain loudly that they cannot hear, showing an impracticality in Strindberg’s proposals. In this way, then, both playwrights use a degree of compromise in their stance against naturalism, but go about their arguments in different ways. The technical aims of naturalism within a theatrical movement were best set out by Strindberg in his Preface to ‘Miss Julie.’ He proposed that dialogue should be non-exaggerated – meandering, and imitating natural conversation, as opposed to “symmetrical, mathematically constructed,” dialogue. However, the dream speeches on page 87 appear to contradict this. Ward points out that the speeches are: “Too neatly juxtaposed to be real, much to full of pastoral imagery to be more than a lyrical expression of Jean’s and Julie’s experiences, and much too tightly constructed to be part of natural dialogue.” (Ward, 1980, p.68) However, it could be argued that the stylistic rhythm of the speeches are designed to hold the audience’s suspension of disbelief, carrying them along with the action, which is a naturalistic aim. Similarly, acting style should be natural, and question traditional theatrical conventions ­ Strindberg was detailed in stressing the importance in the stage directions on page 82 of ‘Miss Julie’ that: “When it is natural for her {Christine} to turn her back on the audience she must do so; she must not look out into the auditorium, nor should she hurry as if she were afraid the public might grow impatient.” (Strindberg, 1958, p.82) In plays of the romantic tradition, it was unheard of that an actor should turn their back on the audience. Other flouts of tradition included the omission of spoken asides, and the practice of actors directly addressing the audience. The same could be said of Strindberg’s removal of play divisions, such as acts. He argued firstly that life does not divide itself, and also used this structure to intensify the play’s action. Naturalist drama was keen on exploring the psychology of its characters, as a protest against the tradition of stock, stereotypical characters, and an emphasis was placed upon a character’s multiple motivations for action. Strindberg suggests, amongst others, the following genetic, psychological and physiological motivations leading to Miss Julie’s tragic fall. “…the passionate character of her mother, the upbringing… by her father… the festive atmosphere of Midsummer Night… her menstruation… the powerfully aphrodisiac influence of the flowers…” (Strindberg’s Preface, Strindberg, 1978, p.93 – 94)These motivations tie in with the naturalistic belief that hereditary, environment, and the pressure of the moment dictate human behaviour. Miss Julie exclaims on page 117: “Who’s to blame for all this ­ my father, or my mother, or myself? Myself? I haven’t a self; I haven’t a thought that I don’t get from my father, nor an emotion that I don’t get from my mother… How can I be to blame?” (Strindberg, 1958, p.117)Less crucial proposals include the need for a play to be genre defying, in order to escape the expectations of the audience. For example, the first part of ‘Miss Julie’ could be mistaken for romance, with a successful elopement, but the sentimental elements are later destroyed and undercut. A play was to deal with modern themes within a contemporary setting. The scenery was to be as real as possible, and there was to be a minimal use of make-up, which hid the character’s expressions. There was also a call for modification of the theatre itself ­ to raise the audience’s seats, and remove the orchestra pit and side boxes, since Strindberg was strongly opposed to the use of the theatrical medium for light entertainment. Naturalism was an attempt to apply to literature the discoveries of Nineteenth Century science. The naturalist play was thought of in terms of a scientific experiment ­ adapted to humanity instead of the natural world. The realists, along with the naturalists, believed that art is a mimetic, objective representation of an outer reality, and both were opposed to romanticism. However, whereas realism simply observes humans with unbiased objectivity, naturalism goes further, to ‘test’ certain traits, against perceived patterns of human behaviour. Was Strindberg successful in applying naturalist philosophy to ‘Miss Julie’? Within the movement, there is an overwhelming emphasis on the need for facts. Strindberg’s ‘facts’ are questioned from the outset in the preface. For example, is Miss Julie a ‘man-hater’? Without facts there can be no theory, and without theory there can be no practice, so is his play immediately discredited in this respect? According to Ward, Strindberg’s intention was to represent Miss Julie as: “…an aristocrat whose role and function is being superseded by the evolutionary process. She is a member of a virtually extinct class who is destroyed by the representative of a lower, more dynamic class.” (Ward, 1980, p.57)However, Strindberg’s simple intentions and analysis, put forward in his Preface, make ‘Miss Julie’ a considerably poorer play than it is. Jean and Julie are trapped within their classes, and their relationship is stunted by social prejudice, but Julie is too complex to represent a class, or be “a pawn in a Darwinian strategy.” (Ward, 1980, p.58) Jean, also, is a powerful individual rather than a stock social type. Neither Jean nor Julie turns out to be typical of their class, as Jean is class conscious as a result of his higher ambitions, and Julie is desperate to break out of social conventions. Ward finds Strindberg’s representation of class evolution unconvincing, stating: “It seems strange that so sensually vital a woman was ever intended to represent the last of an etiolated aristocratic line, or that such an insensitive, swaggering lackey as Jean should be regarded as the successful representative of the newly emerging dominant class.” (Ward, 1980, p. 58)In ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author,’ Pirandello sets out to prove that the subjective is inescapable – a solipsist principal. He proposed that human beings are isolated from one another, and can never communicate the full truth of their identity to each other. The play portrays various power struggles, between the Characters and Actors, and amongst the Characters themselves. The Characters battle for the stage, in order to impose their view of reality and experience on the others. On page 19, the Stepdaughter wants to possess the stage to allow the full communication of her experience, but the Father argues one of the key points of the play: “…How can we understand one another, sir, if in the words I speak I put the meaning and the value of things as I myself see them, while the one who listens inevitably takes them according to the meaning and the value which he has in himself of the world he has inside of himself.” (Pirandello, 1995, p.19)In other words, the receiver of the communication will project his or her own values onto what is being said. The play’s purpose is to depict the irresolvable nature of this dilemma. Pirandello’s solipsist beliefs made him wary of what he called the ‘producer’s play,’ where the director would misinterpret and distort the play against the author’s intentions. He satirises this scenario at several points in the play, firstly on page 48 when the Director complains, “it’s always been my curse to rehearse with the author present. They’re never satisfied,” expressing the conflicts involved while making the transition from writing to performance. At the same time though, he accepts that the theatre cannot accommodate the full complex truth of a situation, on page 46 when the Stepdaughter argues over the precise wording of her lines, and on page 32 when the scenery is being prepared for the brothel scene: Director: {to the Property Man} Go and see if there isn’t a divan in wardrobe. Property Man: Yes sir, there’s the green one. Stepdaughter: No, no. Not green. It was yellow with a floral design made of ‘peluche’ ­ very big and very comfortable. Property Man: Ah, we don’t have one like that. Director: It makes no difference. Use what we’ve got. Stepdaughter: What do you mean it makes no difference? Director: We’re just trying it out for now! Please don’t interfere. (Pirandello, 1995, p.32) Pirandello found the fact that perception is constantly changing, both over time and amongst different people alarming, and set out to depict this instability and state of flux on the stage. At no point can the audience relax, as Pirandello systematically disrupts the action, contrary to the aim of naturalism, which is to create and sustain the illusion of reality. On page 65, as the Son solemnly relates the events of the past, with the full attention of the audience and Actors, there is a sudden revolver shot, and the theatre is thrown into pandemonium. There is no intense involvement ­ the audience is repeatedly drawn in, then pulled away from the action. The play uses aspects of naturalism, such as the realistic stage setting, behaviour, and dialogue, ‘vivacious in its naturalness,’ (p.6). The Father is led by ‘wretched needs,’ (p.24) implying he was a slave to his instincts, driven by the animalistic motives suggested in naturalist philosophy. However, the play also presents a satire on ‘natural acting,’ on page 40, when no-one can hear the hushed conversation of the Stepdaughter with Madame Pace ­ the Director argues that ‘the requirements of the theatre must be respected.’ On page 45, the Leading Lady announces cattily that she will be dressed “far more appropriately” that the character herself! Pirandello’s brand of anti-naturalism takes some aspects of naturalism, then presents it with its shortcomings ­ in other words, he uses naturalistic means, but not ends. The play undercuts the romantic conventions of exclamation, cataclysm, and exaggerations of character. It is also technically anti-naturalistic: the curtain is up at the start of the performance, the workings of the theatre are fore-grounded, the scenery is changed during the play, and masks are used to distinguish between the Actors and Characters. Although it could be argued that satire creates exaggeration, no attempt towards naturalistic illusion is made. Bibliography: Abrams, M. H. (1993) A Glossary of Literary Terms (1941) Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers Paolucci, A. (1974) Pirandello’s Theatre: The Recovery of the Modern Stage for Dramatic Art London: Feffer & Simons, Inc Pirandello, L. (1995) Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921). In Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays. M. Musa (Trans.) London: Penguin Robinson, M. (1996) Strindberg: Selected Essays M. Robinson (Trans.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Strindberg, A. (1958) Miss Julie (1888). In Three Plays. P. Watts (Trans.) London: Penguin Strindberg, A. (1978) Strindberg’s Preface to Miss Julie (1888). In The Father, Miss Julie, and The Ghost Sonata M. Meyer (Trans.) London: Methuen Styan, J. L. (1981) Modern Drama in Theory and Practice: Volume 1. Realism and Naturalism Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Ward, J. (1980) The Social and Religious Plays of Strindberg London: The Athlone Press Williams, R. (1987) Drama from Ibsen to Brecht London: Hogarth Press Zola, E. (1881) Naturalism from Le Naturalisme au theatre G. Brandt (Trans.) Paris: G. Charpentier. In Brandt, G. (Ed.) (1998) Modern Theories of Drama: A Selection of Writings on Drama and Theatre, 1840 ­1990 Oxford: Oxford University Press

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Naturalism in ‘Miss Julie’

April 24, 2019 by Essay Writer

Writers involved in the naturalist movement believed that actors’ lines should be spoken naturally, and that mechanical movements, vocal effects, and irrational gestures should be banished. A return to reality was proposed, with the old theatrical attitudes replaced with effects produced solely by the voice. There was a call to individualise characters, instead of generalising them, to produce characters whose minds and bodies would function as they would in real life. Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’ has been said to be an excellent example of this movement, as it involves stress on multiple motivation of action; a departure from the stereotypical depictions of character; and random, illogical dialogue. Strindberg’s naturalistic conception of theatre also extends to non-literary aspects of staging such as stage décor, lighting, and make-up. Strindberg avoids the regularity of mechanical question and answer dialogue, instead allowing his dialogue to meander, encouraging themes to be repeated and developed over the course of the play. In the preface to the play, Strindberg explains that he has broken with tradition by avoiding “symmetrical, mathematically constructed dialogue.” The sexual tension and hidden aggression in the first scene of ‘Miss Julie’ could be said to be an example of this, especially while the cook Christine is present with Julie and Jean to inhibit the expression of what they really mean. However, it is noticeable that Strindberg’s sub-textual dialogue at the start of the play radically changes once the seduction is completed and there is no more to hide. It is then that the dialogue becomes explicit and ceases to meander. An excessively theatrical scene occurs at the point where Julie grows conscious of her humiliation, falls to her knees, clasps her hands, and cringes before Jean, who rises to stand triumphantly, and symbolically, over her. There is also the bluntly overt exchange of lines such as, ‘Beast!’ ­ ‘Menial! Lackey!’ ­ ‘Menial’s whore, lackey’s harlot!’ It has been proposed that this retreat to the characteristics of old theatricality is perhaps only redeemed in the last minutes, when the stage action becomes solemnly symbolic. The end of the relationship is represented by the decapitation of Julie’s songbird; the sudden ring of the Count’s bell introduces a character that has been silent throughout, present only in spirit. Jean places a razor in Julie’s hand, and she walks out to her death in silence, as if in a hypnotic trance. Her death is not as melodramatic or theatrical as her previous behaviour, so this goes some way to compensate for earlier lapses. Strindberg expressed an aversion to dividing his play into acts, as he believed that, “the declining capacity for illusion is possibly affected by intervals, which give spectators the time to reflect and thereby withdraw from the suggestive influence of the author hypnotist.” His theory centres on the assumption that by eliminating intervals, which act as breaks from the action, continuity would improve, thereby increasing the intense nature of the plays action and creating a claustrophobic environment. In order not to break the illusion, he also wanted to be rid of any musicians that the audience could see, and would not tolerate supper-parties, or other such distracting elements common in the Victorian theatre, and demanded total blackout in the auditorium to make sure. Strindberg wanted his plays to be viewed with thought and intellect, therefore he strove to eliminate all possibility of detached enjoyment, as he did not believe that the theatre should be used as a form of light entertainment, “popular enough for the middle classes…to be able to grasp without too much effort, what the minority is arguing about.” All of Strindberg’s requirements for the intense concentration of the audience during the performance clearly indicate his ideas of dramatic illusion. His audience was to be completely convinced of the reality of the world on the stage, and transported wholly into it. As for the stage setting for ‘Miss Julie’, Strindberg decided to show only part of the kitchen in which the action was to take place, and requested that what was seen should be arranged diagonally, in order that the audience should complete what was not seen by visualising it in their imagination. He echoed a common cry when he asked for the kitchen shelves and utensils to be real props, not just painted on a canvas backdrop. He wanted all barriers between the audience and the stage removed, such as the orchestra and side boxes. The seats were to be raised to bring the audience at an equal level to the actors, and he suggested that auditoriums should be smaller, and more intimate, to have the desired effect of involving the audience, rather than distancing them from the action. Strindberg was not a playwright associated solely with naturalism, since plays such as ‘The Ghost Sonata’ were known as examples of subjective drama, the very opposite of naturalism. The critic Styan has also stated, “By the fall of the curtain, the dialogue has entirely ceased to meander realistically, and it is hard to recognise the play itself as a cornerstone of the naturalistic movement.” However, Strindberg’s preface to ‘Miss Julie’ has been heralded as the best manifesto of naturalism written, and the techniques that he advocated such as the removal of intervals and orchestras, the use of real props, and a reduction in theatre size, have come to have strong repercussions in modern theatre. Bibliography: “Three Plays: Strindberg” “Modern Theories of Drama: 1840 ­ 1990” ­ G. Brandt “Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 1” ­ U. L. Styan

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