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Can Anyone Be Original?: Searching for the Answer in Jean Genet’s Absurdest Play The Maids

23 May

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Class, power, and a plot to kill, these seem to be the embodiment of what the play, The Maids by Jean Genet, as theater of the absurd gets across. But it’s not these things that captured me about Genet’s The Maids. It was what lies beneath the surface that drew me in to consider another possible way to read this play.

The Maids (French: Les Bonnes) is a play by the French dramatist Jean Genet. It was first performed at the Théâtre de l’Athénée in Paris on April 17, 1947.  While Genet’s The Maids was loosely based on the real life infamous sisters Christine and Léa Papin, who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France, in 1933, Genet’s play takes an absurd and more intriguing turn. The Maids is available in print from BCCLS Libraries and as an ebook from Hoopla.  You can also check out the 1975 movie adaptation from Christopher Miles on DVD or stream it from Kanopy.

Jean Genet’s The Maids explores the plight of working class women in early 20th century France. This is seen as these women, Claire and Solange, are forced into assuming the role of subservient, passive, and obedient maids. Even though Genet’s The Maids is the epitome of Theater of the Absurd, it both highlights and challenges gender oppression. The Maids is recognized as absurd because it calls to attention the struggle between the layering of logical and illogical depictions of women of the working class; thus showing how through their performativity the maids manipulate as their own the identity, that of their oppressors.

Now, once the play opens, it is unclear who is whom because we are not granted the privilege of a script. But if you are reading the play before viewing it, you are made aware immediately the identity of the characters. It is this very juxtaposition between performativity that we see how to receive Genet’s personification of identity. Genet’s play through performativity gives way to this idea of false identity, and through irony, keywords, and personification destabilizes the binary original vs. copy.

Genet’s The Maids opens up as a play within a play, thus alluding to the contrast between reality and performativity, and how Claire and Solange break the barrier separating the two. Also, in contrast, Genet’s The Maids undermines the notion of a true identity thus alluding to an origin of a false identity, which then gives way to what can be interpreted as “original.”

If the maids are imitating an imitation of what may or may not even be original, then this calls attention to the question of what is real identity; thus, neutralizing the very difference between classes.  If the maids are performing as Madame, who is putting on a show herself, then what really is Genet saying about identity? How does the binary deconstruct this very question?   These are the questions that caused me to look at the play in a very different light, thus provoking me to analyze my own common interpretation of the surface of this play, to one that may give way to a more elaborate and colorful yet contradicting sentiment that maybe no one is an original but rather refractions.

What are your thoughts about the important conversations this play opens up?  The Maids, a performativity reliant play, sheds light on how as humans we all are performing in our reality, identity, and gender roles.

Written by
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

Films from Kanopy are now available to be borrowed by Hoboken Public Library Resident Card Holders!

18 Apr

Due to popular demand, we are now offering Kanopy for our library patrons!  Hoboken Public Library Resident Library Card Holders now have access to more than 30,000 Films from Kanopy.  Library card holders can access Kanopy and sign up to start streaming films instantly by visiting  Films can be streamed from computers, televisions, mobile devices or platforms by downloading the Kanopy app for iOS, Android, AppleTV, Chromecast or Roku.  Sign up should be fast and easy, but if you need help setting up an account or getting an app, please let us know.

The films include award-winning documentaries, rare and hard-to-find titles, film festival favorites, indie and classic films, and world cinema. With the motto of “thoughtful entertainment,” Kanopy provides films of unique social and cultural value; films that are often difficult or impossible to access elsewhere, and programming that features diversity.

You have five checkouts per month.  Below are five choices I’m planning to checkout this May that I think will appeal to my fellow book worms.


I’m looking forward to watching Neruda, directed by the award-winning filmmaker Pablo Larrain and staring Gale Garcia Bernal, who I am a huge fan of from his role on Mozart in the Jungle. Bernal stars as a policeman chasing Pablo Neruda, one of the most significant poets of the 20th century.  The film was nominated for a Golden Globe.

This Beautiful Fantastic
Beautiful Fantastic

Described as a “modern day fairy tale,” I’m curious to check out This Beautiful Fantastic. This is a story of a young aspiring children’s book author who finds unexpected friendship with a widower living next door, after she is forced to transform the garden in her apartment building’s backyard or face eviction.

Eleanor’s Secret (Kérity, la Maison des Contes)
Eleanor's Secret

Eleanor’s Secret from Academy Award-nominated director Dominique Monfery, is the animated adventure about a magical library where characters from children’s books classics are able to leave their pages and come to life. It is available in the original French or dubbed in English.

How to Publish Your Book

One thing that comes up a lot in the Hoboken Public Library’s Writer’s Groups are questions about the basics of getting a first book published.  How to Publish Your Book, part of The Great Courses provides 24 informative lectures from Jane Friedman, a publishing industry expert about everything from prepping your manuscript, reviewing contracts, and even marketing your book.

Dickinson: The Life and Work of Emily Dickinson
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Emily Dickinson is one of the most beloved American poets; I’m curious to learn more about her life in 19th Century New England in Dickinson, a short documentary from 2014.

What films or documentaries are you planning to check out from Kanopy?  Share your recommendations in the comments!

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