A Review of Netflix Series Maid by Shruti Roy Muhuri

 

 

Learning from the Maid – Manifold Struggles and Relatable Precarity

NETFLIX MAID

 

Alexandra Russell (commonly referred to as Alex in the series) suffered from emotional abuse at the hands of his husband. At first, she failed to recognise it as abuse or violence but as the series progressed, she realised it. Her husband Sean Boyd used to get violent after getting drunk and punch a hole in the wall or throw things at her, which did not directly hit her per se but the shattered glass pieces stuck on their 2 years old daughter’s hair. It resulted in Alex’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This miniseries explored a lot of themes like domestic violence, trauma and panic attacks, life and struggle of a Maid who is also a single Mom, taking care of her daughter as well as her mother.

One of the prominent themes in this series is that of insane price hike. Alex struggles with money after leaving her husband as she did not have any college education and her husband never let her have financial independence of any kind. This demonstrates how sufferers of abuse find it difficult to leave their houses (which are also the sites of violence) because they have been kept financially dependent on the perpetrators. Breaking free from such a cycle requires dragging oneself through menial jobs which do not do justice to one’s talent and yet are essential to make ends meet. Alex, who later got accepted for a Creative Writing programme with scholarship, had to work as a maid and cleaned 338 toilets to be precise to sustain herself and her daughter, Maddy.

This series has been adapted from Stephanie Land’s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive and the subtext of the memoir sums up the three most important aspects, one related to the other, that is there in the series. Even with insane amount of hard work, Alex only manages to get a meagre amount and can save up only 9 dollars. In the screen, we can see a pop-up which keeps on showing the amount of money Alex has and the amount keeps decreasing quite rapidly. This pop-up on the side makes the viewer understand how everything – freedom from abuse, financial independence, taking care of one’s own child etc. – depend majorly and primarily on this one thing called money. While the essential need for earning money is universally true, the series reinforces the materiality of everyday struggles relentlessly. Emotions are not enough in this world. You may want the best for your child but you definitely need money to be able to afford it. The pop-up acts like a constant reminder in Alex’s mind, making her want to work more and more and thereby underlining for us her own precarity. In our current times and especially post-lockdown, employment opportunities in India have reduced a lot, people have lost their jobs and face a lot of difficulties in finding new jobs. There has been exponential price hike as well. All this makes Alex’s precarity utterly relatable. Writing provides Alex a source of solace and a way out of the devitalizing rat race to ensure bare survival.

Throughout the series, Alex searches for a home. Home symbolises comfort, peace, a place where you can be yourself. We are constantly trying to make our lifestyle better and as a consequence of that, we sometimes forget trying to make our lives better. In search of a home, she changes many places – Domestic Violence Shelters, her Mother’s, Nate’s house among other places. There was a place maintained by two women who were married which both Alex and Maddy really liked. Sean crashed at that place one day, heavily drunk and almost naked, and falls asleep on Alex’s landlord’s couch. Sean not only forced Alex to leave her house but also other nice places that she finds for herself and her daughter. After some terrible and miserable turn of events, Alex takes shelter in Sean’s place which totally disrupts her mental peace and well-being. She suffered from PTSD while living there, and constantly imagined herself drowned in a pit. The pit very aptly signifies how she has actually fallen into a huge pit by going back to Sean’s place. This is something she had to face because she didn’t get any substantial help from the society. This series has also showed the inefficiency and problems of government assistance programmes. The self-defeating nature of such programmes becomes evident when a frustrated Alex asks: “I need a job to prove that I need day care in order to get a job? what kind of fuckery is that?” Anyone suffering from abuse in their home would also not have the luxury to afford the amount of time that the logistics of these programmes demand, while their perpetrator is out there trying to sabotage whatever shelter they are seeking at the court. Sean pretended to change only to get Alex back and the moment he realises that Alex is back, he goes back to his older self, throwing things at her and scaring their daughter away. Her daughter tried to hide from Sean inside a cabinet in the very same manner Alex used to hide when she was 5 years old from her father when he used to physically abuse Alex’s mother. She went inside a small cabinet while cleaning one of the houses and had a major panic attack which, she realised much later, had happened due to years of suppressed trauma which she had to go through because of her physically abusive father.

The women at Domestic Violence shelter, however, prove to be completely opposite of the outside world and quite beautifully, they are the ones who actually help Alex at certain points in her life – Denise (the manager at the Shelter), Danielle (the woman who supported and helped Alex get on track when she lost custody of Maddy). It shows us that the victims are the only ones who can help out victims and, although honest, this is a very sad reality of our society.

 

This series also brings forth the power of literature and writing. Alex, even in the toughest of conditions, does not give up writing. She writes just out of her love for literature, and does so whenever she gets some time amidst her extremely busy schedule consisting of taking care of her daughter, combating the challenges posed by her husband and negotiating the reckless life her mother. This uncontaminated love of hers is what gets her enrolled in the Montana College of Fine Arts. This acceptance assured her a life away from stinky toilets, a life where she would be able to afford a car, where she would not have to run from door to door to get residential address for her daughter’s school, where she would not have to crash at her abusive husband’s place because she has no home, where she would not have to think twice before buying herself breakfast and most importantly, a life where she would be able to get Maddy whatever she wants for her. This is a series that thus entwines maternal love, female solidarity, power of art and the resilient struggle of individuals against the manifold process of exploitation and oppressions through a narrative that is both cerebrally and emotionally stimulating.

 

 

Shruti Roy Muhuri is studying Post Graduation in English Literature in Presidency University, Kolkata.

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