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The Maids

Jean Genet

Important Quotations Explained

Part Six: From after the maids leave into the kitchen until the end

Key Facts

"As one loves a mistress."

When Solange insists she loves Claire-as-Madame in Part One, Claire reminds her that it is not a pure love. While Claire implies that this love is one that seeks favors, throughout the rest of the play we see that love for an authority figure is mostly a combination of fear and loathing. A superior rarely mixes resentment, and even more rarely fear, with his love for an inferior but, if love is present at all, loves condescendingly. The maids, devoid of any real power, crave receiving this brand of hateful love, since it suggests they have some power over the lover. Their sado-masochistic fantasies give them the illusion of power—Claire feels she is important enough for someone to have hateful love for her, while Solange gets to release her hatred to its fullest extent.

"Frontiers are not convention but laws. Here, my lands; there, your shore—"

Solange warns Claire about the importance of boundaries between them after they accidentally touch in Part One. The caution stretches beyond physical boundaries, however. Solange knows that in their fantastical role-plays, they are always in danger of losing their identities. The sisters change in "whirligigs," to use Jean-Paul Sartre's term, and the personality of each follows the other in a never-ending circle. Each sister hates being reminded of herself through her sibling mirror-image, but they inevitably meld personalities—Solange shows Claire-as-Madame the mirrored reflection of herself and Claire and says the maids have "merged" in their hatred of Madame. Even in the role-play, then, in which their personalities do sharply diverge, the maids smash the frontiers between themselves. The boundaries are demolished in Solange's final monologue, in which she plays and addresses a number of characters.

"She loves us the way she loves her bidet."

Solange says this about Madame after Claire insists she loves them in Part Two. The choice of a bidet, a structure popular in Europe for feminine genital hygiene, is telling. Solange constantly identifies the maids with filth. She hates their garret because it is filthy, says she and Claire cannot love each other because "filth doesn't love filth," and even the first syllable of her name, "sol," means "dirt" in French. "Claire," on the other hand, means "clear," and she seems to be the more hygienic sister, putting on make-up and getting disgusted when Solange mixes her hairpins with hers. If Madame loves them, she is also repulsed by them. The maids are objects she does not like but depends on for everyday tasks. Solange's self-loathing association with dirt shows no signs of going away; she is, after all, a maid who must clean up filth. Filth is a reminder of her poverty and her feelings of inferiority that will never cease.

"When slaves love one another, it's not love."

Solange tells this to Claire after she says that she knows she disgusts Claire—since Claire disgusts her in Part Three. In The Genealogy of Morals, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche developed his concept of "slave morality." He argued that the oppressed are always reactive, and their values are accordingly weaker, while the ruling class actively controls their destiny with stronger values. Genet confirms Nietzsche's controversial ideas in The Maids. Both Claire and Solange recognize that they are slaves to Madame and that true love between them is not possible. They are too filled with self- loathing, with fear, and with hatred for each other to have their love be a positive, strong value. While Solange, especially, shows maternal affection for Claire at points, it is only temporary and seems to be compensation for her many self-performed abortions.

"Go on! I'm getting there, I'm getting there!"

Solange says this to Claire in their final role-play as Claire-as-Madame insults Solange in Part Five. Solange's words imply she is nearing a virtual orgasm, so aroused is she by Claire's sadistic abuse that confirms Solange's identification with filth and poverty. Prior to this, she said she was going to "whinny" with pleasure. When she turns the tables on Claire, assuming the dominant role, she hits her with a riding whip. Her transformation from submissive horse to dominant rider is striking, but only possible once she has fully absorbed a wealth of sadism from Claire. Solange may enjoy sadistically dominating the fake Madame, but she appears to derive greater pleasure from masochism, as it exploits her capacity for self-loathing.

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