The Maids

by: Jean Genet

Claire

Claire is more open than her sister is in her hatred of her poverty. While Solange usually focuses her aggression on resenting Madame, Claire wants to be Madame. She lives as much as she can in a fantasy world, penning escapist romance stories, strolling about Madame's balcony at night as if she were royalty, and playing Madame in her role-plays with Solange. She tries to forget her filthy occupation—"Claire" means "clear" in French—and she seems to resent Solange, who reminds her of her filth, more than she resents Madame. Her pleasure in the role-plays results from humiliating her sister, and her sadistic insults revolve around her loathing of servants. She says that Solange is like her own "image thrown back at me by a mirror, like a bad smell," and the transformation present in the phrase—from an image to a smell—captures the essence of Otherness which Claire hates. The "Other" is defined by having a marginalized opposition to the status quo, and in the comparison the Other not only sees herself differently, but integrates her view of the status quo into her identity. In other words, a beggar not only looks at what he is, but through comparing himself with a rich person, sees what he is not. The problem for Claire is that both she and Solange are Others, and she often changes her personality in what Jean-Paul Sartre calls "whirligigs." The sisters revolve in circles, adapting parts of the other's personality, and we can see this mostly in their changing power dynamics. The whirligigs overtake them, Claire especially, and Claire often even calls Solange "Claire."

Claire's whirligigs also impact her attitude toward Madame. Favored by her mistress, Claire is quick to defend her against Solange's verbal attacks, insisting she is kind and loving. But as the play wears on Claire expresses her rage against the Madame with even more venom than Solange. Unlike Solange, who cowardly backed out of the murder, Claire is willfully ruthless and tries her hardest to get Madame to drink the poisoned tea. Her rash nature is also at stake here and Solange has to come in to save Claire from giving away the plot. In addition, Claire's illusory is life constantly undercut by her self- consciousness—she often feels someone is watching her and Solange or recording their gestures. These anxieties are, above all, a theatrical self- consciousness. She understands that an audience is watching them and that a writer scripted out their actions. Her cherished red velvet dress, which she initially disdained, becomes a symbol of the theater, as it is made out of the same material as the theater curtain Solange imagines in her final monologue. Just as Claire cannot keep up the illusion for too long, dying in the poisonous manner she prescribed for Madame, the theater will draw its curtains when the on-stage fantasy has ended.


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