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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

A Love Song to the Broken: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

9 May


One of New York Times bestsellers “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur, is an outstanding understatement. If read with non-judgmental eyes – meaning that you do not go into reading it with any preconceived notion that it is not poetry, let alone be that it’s any good. Poetry can mean a lot to one and nothing to another. To my own discretion, I find that it has a powerful affect when it’s looked at through emotions.

The opening lines to the book are:

“my heart woke me crying last night / how can i help I begged / my heart said / write the book”

Already, a tone is set, a mood is shaped, and an opinion is made. Whether that be a good or bad one, the way one chooses to take in the rest of the book, in my opinion, will be determined by how they interpret those lines.

“Milk and Honey” is not only a collection of poetry and prose about survival, it’s also a love song to the broken. Yes, the broken. Not just the broken-hearted, or the misunderstood, or even abused. It speaks to the broken. Whatever that means to the reader is their truth.

This book calls to everyone, with its four chapters labeled, “the hurting”, “the loving”, “the breaking”, and “the healing”. Each chapter is based upon different brokenness and therefore serves to speak toward a specific purpose. My favorite chapter is “the breaking”.

Also, if you notice most of the poems have no titles, they are all mostly “titled” according to whichever chapter they are associated with. Just as well as there are no capital letters within the book. Neither the title nor the author’s name is capitalized. This can be seen as a grammatical editing choice or a purposeful deterrence that is supposed to signify how one’s hurt or version of brokenness may not be relatable to another. Hence, everyone’s brokenness is neither less nor more important than the other.

It’s the kind of book, if you ever took writing courses in college, that slightly makes you resent yourself for not coming up with it yourself. Of course this comically ironic realization is my own personal view and opinionated emotion projected on it. It’s raw and uncensored-ship are just as the drawings within the book. No sign of an eraser used. Just streamline drawings – just as a streamline of consciousness.

Alluding to one of my favorite proses in this collection comes from the chapter “the breaking”. The opening line of said poem can be found on page 97 and it reads:

“did you think i was a city / big enough for a weekend getaway”

The rest of the poem goes onto juxtapose a city with a person. The imagery and the tone is what sets up this beautiful contradiction of metaphors having the capability of being literal depictions of what makes up one’s apparatus. But of course this is just my own emotional connection to this particular prose, and as the poem goes on, there are other particular depths within me that it reaches.

There isn’t enough I could say about this collection of poems and prose. All I can say is that it’s merited more than just a quick glance.

Written by
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

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