Critical Context

Some critics find Jean Genet’s works offensive in their inversion of good and evil and in their pessimistic view of the human condition; others applaud his literary and theatrical skills. His poems, novels, and plays explore similar themes: the isolation of the individual, the impossibility of knowing oneself or others, the transcendent nature of fantasy, the continuum of criminality and saintliness, the ambiguity of reality and illusion, the ultimate liberation of death. He attacks the traditional values of bourgeois morality; his characters are outcasts; his imagery is sensual and at times scatological; his style is theatrical.

Genet’s five plays are linked in subject and theme. In The Maids and the prison drama Haute Surveillance (pr., pb. 1949; Deathwatch, 1954) both one-acts written in the late 1940’s, the central figures are trapped in unacceptable identities; they take refuge in fantasy and find freedom only in death. Le Balcon (pb. 1956; The Balcony, 1957) expands upon these themes. In an elaborate house of illusions, a brothel, clients act out their erotic fantasies, transforming their daily existence just as the maids transform theirs. Extravagant costumes emphasize the illusion; mirrors reflect the appearances. The play echoes The Maids in its exploration of fantasy and in its dramatic use of the trappings of the theater. Genet’s last two plays, Les Negres: Clownerie (pb....

(The entire section is 439 words.)