The Maids Characters
by Jean Genet

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Solange

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

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...

(The entire section is 686 words.)