Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 686
Solange (soh-LAHNZH), a maid between thirty and thirty-five years of age. She is a bitter, violent, frustrated young woman who tends to dominate her sister Claire, who is also a maid. In many respects, the two sisters are similar, even interchangeable. They both deeply resent the humiliating and subservient position they have been allotted by society. They are nothing; they have no real being, except what Madame, their mistress, makes them. Envious of each other, as well as of Madame, they passionately hate and love each other just as they passionately hate and love Madame, that love-hate relationship being colored with erotic overtones. Alienated from the real world by social prejudices, each time Madame goes out, they escape their tawdry existence by playing a game, setting up a dream world. In this ritual, each in turn impersonates Madame and her relationship with her lover, while the other plays the part of the other sister she is not, as the maid she is. During that ceremonial game, they both speak in a falsely exalted, deliberately artificial, declamatory language, in which they throw harsh insults at each other, acting out all of their anger and frustration at each other as well as at Madame. When the real Madame arrives onstage, they interrupt the game, but far from reintegrating reality, they continue to act. Now, however, they play the roles of obedient and faithful servants. Solange seems harder than Claire, whom she tries to dominate; however, she is in fact more cowardly than her sister. She did not have the courage to write the letters of denunciation that sent Monsieur, Madame’s lover, to jail. She kept Monsieur’s letters to Madame because she was in love with him. At the end, after Madame’s departure, she pushes the “ceremony” to its logical conclusion by giving Claire the cup of poisoned tea that they had prepared for Madame. She will then become Solange Lemercier, the murderess. Through the ritual, she at last will have attained a reality of her own.
Claire, Madame’s maid and Solange’s younger sister. Sharing Solange’s degrading predicament and most of her emotions, she seems gentler yet more perfidious. She, too, must resort to living in a fantasy world to escape her sordid life. When the curtain rises, she plays at impersonating her mistress, exaggerating the latter’s gestures and language, making her look like a haughty shrew. Every night, she parades on the balcony, wrapped in drapes or in a bedspread, saluting like a queen the multitude below her. After Madame has left to join her lover, she decides to resume the ceremony and to play it to the bitter end by drinking the poisoned tea destined for Madame, in a solemn ritual that will put an end to the sisters’ humiliation and allow them to achieve their final deliverance.
Madame, a kept woman of about twenty-five living on the fringes of society. She is as alienated from the real world as her maids. Dressed in gaudy attire, she lives out a fantasy with Monsieur, her lover, painting a glowing picture of her alleged martyrdom and heroism. She plans to follow her lover to Siberia, devoting her life to him. She will not drink the poisoned tea Claire brings her, in an exalted renunciation of all earthly matters. As soon as she hears that Monsieur is free, she runs out to drink champagne with him. She is kind to her maids, giving them her old clothes and the flowers that she does not want. She loves them as disposable objects, smothering them under her affected kindness. She is onstage only for a brief time, but she still remains a powerful force, ever present in her absence, during the whole play. Lacking a personal name, she is a symbol, a function, directly responsible for the maids’ sordid predicament.
Monsieur, Madame’s lover, who is never seen by the audience but who stands in the center of Madame’s life. In this bourgeois atmosphere, he is the only one ennobled by prison, the victim of Claire’s anonymous false accusations.
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