Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 889
The Maids begins in a bedroom furnished in Louis XV style and adorned with lace and flowers. A slipclad woman demands her dress, her fan, and her jewels in an exaggerated, insulting manner. The maid, whom she addresses as “Claire,” is humble and submissive, accepting the abuse heaped upon her. A curious moment occurs: “Madame” calls for the “white dress, the one with spangles,” but the maid refuses, insisting that she wear the scarlet velvet instead. “Madame” then seems to prompt “Claire,” whom she now calls Solange, to threaten and insult her, “to talk about Monsieur’s misfortunes,” as she acquiesces to the red dress. Her finished costume carries her to a peak of poetic ecstasy in which she emphasizes the chasm between them: her “nobility,” the maid’s “baseness.” The maid now turns on her, spewing out abuse, spitting on the dress, slapping her face, promising that she is going to finish her off.
An alarm clock rings. The scene collapses, and “Madame” and “Claire” drop the masquerade to become Claire and Solange—maids and sisters. They have been escaping their dreary reality as servants by participating in a “ceremony,” a game in which they alternate roles as Madame and maid, trying to goad each other into the emotional state necessary to commit the murder of their mistress, thereby achieving freedom for themselves. This evening again they have been unsuccessful; now they must hurry to clean and rearrange the room before Madame returns. Depressed, they argue and commiserate, Solange accusing Claire of mixing details from their private lives with the “ceremony.” Unconcerned, Claire exults over the anonymous letter she wrote accusing Madame’s lover of being a thief; she relishes the memory of the anguish on her employer’s face when she heard of his arrest. Solange’s venom increases. Claire counters by suggesting that Solange’s unsuccessful attempt to kill Madame was actually an attack on her, Claire. Solange replies that she only wanted to free Claire from their miserable existence.
The telephone rings; Monsieur is free on bail. Claire takes the call, and the audience sees that in her agitation she misplaces the receiver on the table. The maids are panicked, certain that their plot will be discovered. Claire declares that she now has the strength to kill Madame. Solange tries to dissuade her, to calm her, but Claire’s determination takes off in an imaginative flight of power and martyrdom.
The doorbell rings; Madame has returned. The sisters agree that Claire will lace the tea with ten phenobarbitol pills. Madame enters, chattering about the flowers, the cold, her lover’s plight, her desire to follow him to the ends of the earth. Claire appears with the poisoned tea. Dramatizing her misery, Madame bestows the red velvet dress on Claire and the fur cape upon Solange, but she does not drink the tea. Suddenly she notices the telephone off the hook. The maids stammer that Monsieur is out of jail and waiting for her at the bar. Furious that she was not told the good news immediately, Madame sends Solange out for a taxi, meanwhile retrieving her gifts, since she will not be following her lover to some remote prison. As they wait, Claire fixes her hair, continuing to press the tea on her without success.
Solange returns with a taxi, and Madame leaves. Now the two sisters are again alone—Claire weary and discouraged, Solange bitter and full of hate. They will play the game again. Solange says that she will play Madame; Claire refuses, claiming that she is “used to it [the role].” She will wear the white dress. Solange agrees, providing they skip the preliminaries and “get right into the transformation.” Solange is “dazzled” by Claire’s appearance in the white dress, but Claire cuts short her adoration,...
(The entire section contains 1607 words.)
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