The Ghost Sonata relates the adventures of a young student, who idealizes the lives of the inhabitants of a stylish apartment building in Stockholm. He makes the acquaintance of the mysterious Jacob Hummel, who helps him to find his way into the apartment, only to find that it is a nest of betrayal and sickness. The world, the student learns, is hell and human beings must suffer to achieve salvation. The play centers on a family of strangers who meet for the sake of meeting. They exchange no dialogue, nor gestures, they simply sit and bask in their own misfortune.
To Strindberg, family was something that he could never understand or even be a functioning part of: "Family... the home of all social evil, a charitable institution for comfortable women, an anchorage for house-fathers, and a hell for children" (Strindberg's Inferno). As a child, Strindberg went through the very hell he alludes to about the family. As an adult he realized that he would rather have died than lived a childhood hell and an adult hell, thus spawning a mania fixating on death.