Self-conscious theatricality

Genet wrote in his novel Our Lady of the Flowers, written before his plays, that if he wrote a play with female roles, he would place boys in the parts, and would set up a placard next to the stage to call the audience's attention to the Shakespearean device. His point is clear—that in a play about illusions, a secondary illusion (boys playing women) returns the artificiality to the real, albeit a self-conscious real (the placard). This self-conscious reality undermines the maids' attempts to cloud their lives over with illusion. Claire often feels that someone is watching them and that something is recording their gestures—i.e., the audience and the written text of the play—and Solange say they are performing for God in their "last act." Solange's final monologue blurs the lines between the illusory and the real; as The Maids winds down, she imagines Madame and Monsieur attending a play which has just ended. Self-consciousness was a major technique of the Absurdist playwrights, and without too many wink-and-nudge moments, as Samuel Beckett used, Genet exploited the form to great effect.


"Claire" means "clear" in French; "sol" (from "Solange") means "dirt." Although Claire aspires to nobility more than her sister, painting herself with make-up and the like, Solange, for the most part, has a greater repulsion from dirt. She bitterly says Madame loves them like her bidet or toilet-seat. She can't stand the filth of their garret and, referring to herself and Claire, quips "Filth doesn't love filth." She is a maid, whose job it is to clean up filth, so filth throughout the play serves as a reminder of her slavishness, of her shame, and of her poverty.