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The Maids

Jean Genet

Part Five: From after Madame leaves until the maids go to the kitchen

Part Four: From after the doorbell rings until Madame leaves

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

Summary

Claire returns, and Solange reprimands her for her "fine job." Claire tells her Madame did not drink the tea and leaves to go to sleep. Solange calls her back, and Claire removes the blame from herself that Madame did not drink the tea. Solange tries to stir her sister into a rage, telling her that Madame and Monsieur will probably find out about the letters. She loathes Madame, especially her newfound happiness, and criticizes her gifts. Claire defends herself again, and asks if Solange wants to "make a scene." She unties her apron, but Solange tells her to keep it on, as it is now her turn to be Madame. Claire hands her the apron, anyway, and asks if she has too much make-up on. Solange says she does, and takes the apron. She asks Claire to turn out the light, which she does. Claire suggests that they wait, in case Madame returns for something, but Solange refuses. Claire says Madame is suspicious and might be watching. She strangely feels there is something in the room that can "record" their gestures and play them back. Madame also told them not to latch the door, she reminds her. Claire wants to pray to the Virgin Mary, but Solange says not to bring her into their ceremony, and says God is the one for whom they must "perform" the "last act." Claire says she will put on the white dress, then, and Solange tells her to hurry up, as she cannot stand the shame any longer.

Solange praises the beauty of Claire, now in the dress, but Claire tells her to start with the insults. She is unable to do it, so Claire takes the reins and tells her how much she despises servants. Solange keeps urging her on with cries of "Go on!" as Claire continues. Claire finally runs out of steam, and Solange takes over, bringing up Madame's milkman. She takes a riding whip and orders Claire down on her knees. Claire reluctantly does so, and as Solange slanders her more, strikes her and commands her to lie down. She scoffs at Madame's plan to free her husband from jail, and says she is not jealous, as she does not need "that thief" where she is going. She orders her to get up, and says she will "marry" her standing up, and mocks her groveling at a "man's feet." Claire slowly gets up and says Solange is killing her, and they must go to bed. Solange says Madame has a lovely throat, and Claire backs away to the kitchen, protecting her neck, pointing out that Madame will return soon. Solange tells her to go into the kitchen, and Claire screams for help. Solange tells her not to, as it is useless and death is stalking her. She tells Claire that she "trimmed her belly with pins to stab all the foetuses" she threw into the gutter to keep Claire alive. Claire runs around the room, and Solange chases her, but when Claire gags and says she feels ill, Solange comforts her and gently walks her off to the kitchen, where she has ways of "putting an end to all suffering."

Analysis

Claire says "You want to make a scene?" as a reference to their role-playing that, as Genet makes clear, truly is a scene for them. Solange's description of the "last act" they must "perform" for God directly correlates to the play The Maids. Although it is a one-act play, they are nearing the end of that act, and God is, essentially, the audience, the silent judges. Claire's fear that something in the room is recording their gestures is the actual play. As the ceremony grows increasingly aware of itself as ceremony, it takes on a secondary level of illusion and suddenly becomes very real to the maids.

The ceremony becomes so real, in fact, that it produces physical arousal in Solange. The eroticization of the transformation is detailed much more explicitly this time. She says she is "quivering" and "shuddering with pleasure," and tells Claire to "go on" with her insults as she approaches a virtual climax. This contrasts to Madame's erotic fantasy about freeing Monsieur from jail by seducing the guards—Madame was turned on by the idea of sinking into criminality, while Solange is aroused by the sado-masochism of humbling the fake Madame. The eroticism is primarily masochistic and only secondarily sadistic, as she requires the fake Madame pelt her with insults that confirm her own self-identification with filth and poverty. Only then is she properly excited and able to transform herself into a powerful, whip-wielding man. Her conclusion about their relationship to Madame—"Her joy feeds on our shame"—defines the logic of Otherness, where one value increases in opposition to another one. To gain maximum pleasure, Solange first wants the fake Madame to feed joyfully on Solange's shame, and then she wants to overthrow the equation.

Another telling detail emerges in this section. Solange's account of her numerous abortions explains her excessive maternal love for Claire before. Without a child to love, she has transferred her actions to her younger sister. It also explains, in part, her self-loathing, as she may feel she has failed as a woman. The abortions shed light on her relationship to Mario, as well. Claire was previously angry that Solange had not yet been impregnated by the milkman, but it now appears that Solange has, in fact, been pregnant, but has secretly performed abortions on herself to take care of Claire.

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