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The Maids

Jean Genet

Part Two: From after the alarm clock rings until the telephone rings

Part One: From beginning until alarm clock rings

Part Three: From Monsieur's telephone call until the doorbell rings

Summary

Claire urges Solange to help her out of the dress, as Madame will be back and it is over—before Solange could get to the end. Solange is resigned, and blames Claire for never being ready and allowing Solange to finish her off. Claire says she set the alarm early so they would have some time, but Solange tells her to watch at the window and to "be yourself again." Claire tells Solange to stop dominating her, a charge Solange denies. Solange says Claire started their fighting by bringing up Mario—she loves mingling her insults with details from their private lives. Claire says she envies Solange for having seen Madame's crestfallen face when she heard of her husband's arrest. She takes credit, however, for having written the anonymous letter that sent him to prison. Solange hopes Madame dies of sadness, so that she can get an inheritance and not set foot again in their filthy garret. Claire likes the garret, which irritates Solange, though she says she liked it because its plainness rid her of the need to "put on a show." She says that Claire will be able to continue pretending to be an aristocrat, strolling around Madame's balcony at night as if she were royalty greeting her followers. Claire fears Madame's return and lifts the curtains, and Solange says that she does it the way Monsieur did it when he was spying on the police the morning he was arrested.

Solange says nobody loves them, but Claire insists that their kind Madame does. Solange says Madame loves them like she loves her bidet, a fixture popular in Europe for cleaning a woman's genital area, or toilet-seat. Solange adds that she and Claire cannot love each other, since filth does not love filth. She says she will not put up with playing the game any longer and retiring to her cot at night. Claire asks her to think of Madame's kindness, but Solange passes it off as easy to do when one is rich and beautiful. All a maid can do, she says, is pretend her job is more glamorous than it is, as Claire does. Claire tells her to calm down and says she has some information on Solange that she would not want revealed. Solange taunts her, and Claire says Solange is the weak one. She says that she has not brought up Claire's vulnerable point: her letters. She wrote fantastical stories that littered the garret, and Solange used them as escapism. In yesterday's story, for instance, she delighted in fleeing France with her thieving husband. Claire says the reason she hates Solange is because she tried to kill Madame—and through that, she was aiming for Claire. Solange concedes to the attempt, but says she loved Claire and she was trying to free her from Madame's grasp. She was cowardly, she says, and could not do it. She wanted to strangle Madame. She despises the way Madame's grief makes her more beautiful, and Solange wanted to make up for the "poverty" of her own grief by the "splendor" of her crime. Afterward, she says, she would have set fire to everything—a plan, Claire says, that might have been discovered. The phone rings.

Analysis

Claire calls their role-playing a "ceremony." The role-playing is a ritual that exalts their humdrum lives into a virtually spiritual realm and, like most ceremonies, is self-conscious, attuned to its rigorous conventions. The maids are highly aware of the illusion they have created, and their self-consciousness makes their yearning that much more confused and poignant. This awareness of artifice is how Genet, too, wants his theater. In Our Lady of the Flowers, written before his plays, he vows that if he wrote a play with female roles, he would have boys play the parts, and a placard next to the stage would call the audience's attention to the gender-bending. Though not all productions of The Maids have followed Genet's advice, some understand that a play about illusions cannot be presented straightforwardly and may switch the actresses' roles throughout the play. Such a device is insightful, since part of the genius of The Maids is that it is difficult to tell who is in charge in the sisters' ever-changing power struggle. Although Claire wrote the letter that imprisoned Monsieur, Solange is the more ruthless one, willing to exact vengeance through murder. But she is a coward, as she admits, and though older and seemingly more dominant, at one points Claire refers to her as "my little sister."

Solange's fear of Claire's "mingling" their real and illusory lives recalls her warning about boundaries and frontiers. She claims she can see the garret for what it really is, through whatever sentimental glaze Claire has coated it with, and her deeper self-loathing also comes out with her final appraisal of the garret: "We're scum!" While her sincerity is questionable when she says she liked the garret because she "didn't have to put on a show" in front of its plain décor, that it makes no pretensions as to its shabbiness does seem to appeal to her. She loathes her position so much that she does not want to admit she desires Madame's status, but her vicarious pleasure in Claire's stories reveals her desperate need for escapism. Claire, by authoring the stories and playing her private illusory games, more honestly admits her desire for an aristocratic life.

Solange's description of the garret reveals another strain of her self-loathing that Genet works into an important motif. Earlier, Claire-as-Madame said Solange only loved her "As one loved a mistress," implying a love based out of fear and covetousness. Now, Solange says Madame loves them only as a bidet or toilet- seat, devices that one depends on, but considers filthy and debased. Similarly, the authority figure's love is hardly love, but condescending disgust. Solange's major identification is with filth, and her self-loathing prevents her from loving her equally filthy sister. Perhaps there is a deeper jealousy, and Claire is not as dirty. Solange's name, as previously noted, recalls the French for "dirt," while Claire's means "clear." The irony is heavy, since as a maid, it is her job to clean up filth.

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