Behind a Mask is a fast-paced thriller, remarkable for forward-looking feminist themes. These are developed through the interplay between vivid, varied characters. Bella's simplicity and Edward's good-heartedness serve to balance Gerald's distrust and Lucia's dislike. Haughty Lucia embodies the dullness of docility in contrast to Jean, and Sir John a moral uprightness. Jean is a skillfully crafted character, interesting for what she does and what she stands for. A one-dimensional, scheming, bitter, and entirely malicious Jean would have worked against Alcott's feminist purpose.
To engage the reader quickly, Alcott opens with a touch of intrigue. Jean Muir may not be merely a pale, thin, governess in a plain dress. "Something in the lines of the mouth betrayed strength," and her voice "had a curious mixture of command and entreaty in its varying tones." The reader is fascinated with Jean by the time she unmasks in the privacy of her room. "She had been lovely once, happy, innocent, and tender," the reader learns, "but nothing of all this remained to the gloomy woman who leaned there brooding over some wrong, or loss, or disappointment which had darkened all her life."
Jean exemplifies the realism that is typical of Alcott's fiction. In fact, many critics see Jean's character as modeled from tensions within Alcott herself. Like Jean, Alcott felt rage at the limited opportunities, underpaid work, and domestic role-playing demanded of women...
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