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The Maids

Jean Genet

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

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

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Solange returns from the kitchen, wearing her black dress. In her ensuing monologue, she addresses imaginary characters on stage. She celebrates having strangled Madame with the dish-gloves. She says Madame should have taken off that "grotesque" black dress, and then imitates Madame's voice and complains about having to wear mourning for her maid. In her own voice, Solange says Madame should not pity her, as she is her equal. She addresses a police inspector, telling him Monsieur used to obey their orders when they threatened him, and refuses to speak about their "complicity" in the murder. She disdains the dresses Madame gave them, saying they have their own. She sees Monsieur laughing at her, and then forgiving her, which pleases her. She says Madame will get over her fright. She says she has been a good servant, but now she has strangled her sister. She thinks of the evening Madame gently took a magazine away from Claire.

Solange smokes a cigarette, coughs, and goes out on to the balcony, her back to the audience. She imagines the hangman taking her away, trying to kiss her. She sees herself being led by all the maids in the neighborhood for Claire's funeral procession. Claire, visible only to the audience, leans against the kitchen door and listens to her sister. Returning to the room, Solange cries for poor Claire, and calls herself a famous criminal. Claire enters the room, wearing the white dress. Solange complains that Madame continues to stroll about the apartment, and then says, "we're raving" to Claire. In Madame's voice, Claire tells her to quiet down and shut the window and draw the curtains, which she does. Solange says they are playing an idiotic game, and Claire says for "Claire" to pour her a cup of tea. Solange protests and tiredly sits down, but Claire insists. She says nothing else exists save the altar where one of the maids is about to immolate herself, and that Solange must stay strong and keep them both alive. She tells "Claire" to stand up straight and to "represent" her in the world. She lifts Solange up and makes her repeat after her "Madame must have her tea" and other similar sentences. Solange objects that the tea is too cold, but Claire says she will drink it, anyway. Solange brings in the tea, in the finest tea set, and Claire drinks it.

Solange faces the audience. She comments on the end of the theatrical production—the orchestra plays, the attendant raises the red velvet curtain, and Madame descends the stairs and gets into her car with the charming Monsieur. She is dead, but rings the bell, enters the apartment, and finds Madame dead. Her two maids are alive, however, risen up from Madame's form, now free. The delicate perfume of the "holy maidens they were in secret" floats around Madame's dead body. Solange proclaims themselves "beautiful, joyous, drunk, and free!"

Analysis

The end of the play is purposely confusing as Genet throws in mixed identities, fake murder(s), and a real suicide. He also includes theatrical self- consciousness to solidify his major theme, illusion as a reaction against authority. Solange's monologue mixes personae to a perplexing effect. The boundaries between people she mentioned at the beginning of the play are destroyed, and she even changes the murder victim from Madame to Claire and back to Madame. These sudden shifts are logical, however, since she had always confused Claire in her mind with Madame, had resented the favoritism Madame had lavished on her sister, and had acted out her sadistic revenge fantasies against Claire-as-Madame. Claire, too, calls Solange "Claire" at times and her despised mirror image in her sister has become a reality to her. Both maids have lost their identities in their extreme identification with Otherness, only understanding themselves in opposition to others, and this identification has, pushed to the limit, made them forget their own stations. It is fitting that Solange first falsely "murders" Claire by strangling her with the dish-gloves, as it acts out her occupational aggression—remember that the first words of the play were Claire-as-Madame's rebuking Solange for bringing in the dirty gloves from the kitchen. The true death, then, accordingly comes as Claire acts out what they had plotted for the real Madame, death by poison in tea. By committing suicide, she becomes Madame, which satisfies her need to be the authority figure and Solange's need to destroy said figure.

Genet's heightened attention to stage direction in this last section is crucial, since Solange's monologues are stagy and self-conscious. The God-like audience—they are even omniscient, seeing Claire when Solange cannot—watches as she becomes writer, actor, and detached narrator, commenting on what happens after the "play" has ended. The red velvet curtain the imaginary attendant pulls corresponds not only to the curtains the maids draw throughout the play, but to the red velvet dress that Solange insisted Claire wore and that Madame eventually gave to her. The dress symbolizes the boundary between reality and illusion, between the mundane world of the audience and the fantastic one of the stage. The freedom Solange declares in her final words is, in her eyes, freedom from the oppressive authority of Madame. However, the prominence of the red velvet curtain/dress reminds us that the freedom is only illusory and temporary; she is still a maid, and the curtain will open again tomorrow when Madame comes home with Monsieur.

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