Last Updated on November 22, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 622
Stephanie Land’s Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive is equal parts memoir and social commentary, retelling the author’s journey as a single mother struggling to survive on a maid’s wages. Her story is achingly familiar, dealing with poverty, isolation, and abuse. It is a tale of hard work and desperation undercut by the deep, abiding love of a mother willing to do anything to provide for her child. Land tells her story without airs, lingering in the humiliation and difficulty of her seemingly inescapable circumstances. Maid unveils the mundane struggle of life on the margins to argue that American society does not do enough to provide for those caught in the throes of economic inequality and domestic abuse.
At twenty-eight, Land’s birth control failed, and she unexpectedly fell pregnant. The father, a new boyfriend whom Land had only recently met, soon became abusive; his abuse was exacerbated upon learning that his new girlfriend planned to keep the child. Knowing that circumstances would force her to support herself and her daughter alone, Land revised her plans for the future. Originally, she had intended to earn a college degree and become a writer; after her daughter, Mia, was born, Land took the only job available: cleaning houses with Classic Clean. Mia spent her infancy first in a homeless shelter, then in a low-rent apartment. Despite spending countless hours filling out paperwork, attending meetings with government officials, and striving to procure government aid, Land felt herself growing increasingly trapped. Though her rent was a modest $550 per month, Land earned less than $9 per hour. Moreover, she was reluctant to move out of her hometown, Port Townsend, Washington, for fear of irritating Mia’s father,
Maid details Land’s struggle to cope with her newfound life by melding stories about her back-breaking work as a maid and the trials of navigating restrictive social welfare programs with the broader ongoing questions about wealth inequality in America. She explains that, while working as a maid, she struggled with the feeling of invisibility. Seldom did she meet her clients, and their homes offered insight into a world that she felt could never be hers. Land provides intimate details about her clients' lifestyles and names each house after an observed idiosyncrasy of its owner. For example, the "Cigarette House" is occupied by a woman who keeps Virginia Slims in the freezer. The "Porn House" is occupied by a man who keeps pornography in his bedroom. The "Sad House" stays relatively clean, as the owner is often in the hospital; its owner is a widower and keeps many of his wife's old notes and belongings. Even though Stephanie lives in poverty, after thoroughly examining their homes while cleaning, she feels that her clients are not necessarily happier.
Land flits from stories about her financial straights to the homes she cleaned, interweaving each new tale with yet another aspect of the mentality that poverty spawned in her. For example, if Land earned more than a certain amount, she knew she would lose her benefits. At the same time, if she wasn't actively engaged in working or caring for Mia, she felt lazy. Although Land's book is a personal memoir, it highlights the fallibility and injustice of many government assistance programs (such as when her WIC coupons would not cover certain grocery items, even though she took the afternoon off of work to attend the meeting where she received those stamps). In the end, Land moves to Missoula, earns her degree, and writes a book. Though her circumstances improve, her memoir is a lasting testament to the broken system of government assistance, as well as the practical difficulty of ascending into the middle class alone.