Louisa Alcott’s novel Behind a Mask is unclassifiable story that edges close to intense literature. This aspect is repeated in the character of Jean Muir of whom the audience cannot easily discern. Jean Muir creates a dark and mysterious effervescence that triggers curiosity into what underlies the veil that she wears. At the same time, it might be true that she does not wear any veil. It is hard to conclude whether she is a character that springs from the circumstances around her; or a lifelong conniving woman who takes advantage of individuals’ sympathy and compassion to attain her way around life. Jean Muir should face analysis from two perspectives. She is either a manipulative character or a product of psychological failings. By characterizing her as possessing psychological failings, she is a product of the society’s circumstances such as patriarchy and class distinctions.
A summary of the story reads of a woman who goes to the Coventry as a governess. Jean has been recommended by a family friend of the Muir family. At this time, individuals around her are suspecting that she had a past romantic affair with the son of this friend. She is a humble and lovely woman of whom half the family comes to love. In spite of the overwhelming and gradual reception, the Old Coventry is skeptic of the well perceived character of Jean Muir. The elder Coventry has a growing conviction that Jean Muir is a scheming woman who may eventually surprise the individuals around her with a scripted life of manipulation. If one follows the perspective of the elder Coventry, the audience attains the assurance that Jean Muir is a dark woman. This manipulative character is a unique type since the evil in her seeps into every act that she performs. In this perspective, it becomes difficult to discern her evil character because she does not perform any one sensational and gross act. Instead, she programs her life towards a single ambition of success such that the individuals around her do not notice until she reaches her destination. When she reaches that destination, it again becomes difficult to discern whether she has worked hard for her gains or not.
It is crucial to portray the appearance of Jean Muir as she seems to the individuals who initially encounter her. To begin with, she appears young but she is a moderately old woman who might have reached her thirties. She possesses a dark hair but she has covered the same with a fair colored wig while the individuals around her are oblivious of this idea. In addition, she has a subtle, gentle and meek appearance. In the end, she strikes people as a caring and pretty governess. The audience should have skeptical perspectives as concerns this appearance. This is because Jean Muir professes a character that is difficult to hate. This, however, is impractical in an actual life. A complete individual should possess both discernible glow and dark side. A real person should possess strengths and weaknesses that make individuals hate, love, sympathize and despise her simultaneously. It is not realistic that Jean Muir can possess such a genteel appearance in all her manners and appearance. In turn, this behavior is characterized as seduction. It is only seducers who can project such a faultless image that do not entail the humanity of possessing flaws. Deep within, Jean Muir is a bitter women but she projects an unfazed face out of her circumstances.
The book describes her as not an attractive woman; neither an ordinary one too. By describing her as not attractive, the story does not mean that she is unattractive. Rather, it is difficult to conclude whether she is not beautiful or not. Her beauty solely depends on how she projects herself to the aesthetics loving society that she longs to belong in. In the end, she seduces people with her charms thereby landing into coveted places that she had longed for.
This appealing character seduces the audience into sympathizing with a woman who might have faced certain difficulties in her earlier life. It reveals that the woman projects the image that the society expects of her. It describes the beautiful yet the subtle and meek appearance that the society expects. Jean Muir seduces a society that she deems as impenetrable when she employs real efforts. In turn, the projected image weakens the hard stance of the given society. In Jean Muir’s society, a dark hair and meek personality of a woman is deemed angelic. In turn, women are similar to artifacts that the society perceives as accessories to a dull society. On the other hand, men are the owners of these women that they showcase for pride.
To begin with, it seems that the Victorian society imposes constraints on the entrepreneurial ventures of women. Jean Muir is a thirty year old divorced actress that goes for a job as a governess in an upper class Coventry family. According to her, this might be the only way of attaining wealth. Muir seems to possess talent in creating impressions as she has had a life of acting. In the Coventry family she lays a meek and bashful nineteen year old girl. She plays a sentimental woman thereby winning hearts of the family sons. Having convinced a significant number of people around her, she marries the old titled uncle, Sir John. Muir is securing a prominent financial future by concealing the intricacies of her part to secure the family name. Sir John is an aristocratic man who has the assurance of lifelong wealth due to the family connections and large businesses. Muir probably has the assurance that marrying into the family will accord the platform for having a financially secure family. Besides marrying a wealthy man, a woman possesses limited opportunities to create wealth.
Apart from limited wealth creating opportunities, poverty is a significant trigger of Muir’s character. The book notes that Muir has faced more frost than sunshine. Besides, the story notes that poverty had bound her to a life of misery. Poverty creates a considerable number of problems for such a woman. To begin with, she is an insignificant person of whom the society cannot recognize her talent unless she attains wealth. Jean Muir probable has dependants who rely on her meager earnings from seemingly desperate venture that she engages in.
In order to escape this trap, because poverty seems to be a perpetual thing in her class, she discovers a single way out of the misery. Jean Muir is a victim of a society that only gives wealth to a given class of individuals. As wealth rotates around the class, poverty remains etched in the lower classes. As evident in Muir’s story, as she teaches children in the Coventry community, the lower class overwork themselves to create wealth for the bourgeoisie class. Muir possesses limited alternatives but to effect this image towards appealing to the Coventry class of individuals. By breaking the crust and penetrating into the upper society, she can easily access wealth that is otherwise limited to her class of individuals.
However, employing poverty as an excuse to manipulate individuals is refutable from many points. It is arguable that the Coventry class is a circumstantial product of industrialization. Apart from general wealth level, class conflict is a persistent feature in labor, politics, private life and family. This manifests a whole network of strife that production inevitably creates. Eventually, individuals strive to escape this conflict. This is evident in the Coventry family case as they strive to hide from the tumultuous environment that defines production. Similarly, Muir escapes from this conflict at her home. In the end, every individual suffers the same fate of escaping from conflicts that define their typical environments. An upper class home becomes a refuge from the tumult in the city and social strife. Muir, therefore, should not take advantage of her situation to con her away around life.
Jean Muir is excusable as a product of a patriarchal society. The society constrains and limits a woman’s growth in every perspective. This includes limits to a how a woman expresses herself and explores her nature. In such a society, Jean Muir possesses limited opportunities but to pursue arts such as acting. Through acting, she can communicate the emotions and express the intellect that the society suppresses. These standards limit a woman’s individuality in terms of her intelligence, personality and talents. In turn, she has to opt for the image that society expects of her. Unlike men, women adopt the construct that the society makes for them.
This creates fury in a woman such as Jean Muir who plans to revenge on men. However, she realizes that she cannot attain her wish if she projects that bitter to the world. This suggests that she has to adopt the image that the society expects of her and eventually cast the spotted men in the same arena that she has been knocked down.
Muir’s handling of the male characters in the novel is the mark of a woman who is venting. In her notes to her friend, she reveals that her husband was shocked on hearing that she was an actress. While growing up, she chooses acting and strives to live a reckless life. This creates a tumultuous relationship that leads to her divorce. Jean Muir professes hatred for Gerald since she realizes that he was responsible for her not receiving a carriage to the Coventry estate. Her grand scheme regards charming Edward and moving to Gerard. Thereafter, she drops both of them for their elderly uncle. Her aim is to humiliate and humble the two men. This deep lying animosity is a reaction to injustices that she has suffered out of a society that only appropriates prosperity to men and is limiting to women.
Jean Muir is a reaction to social construct of classes. Muir presents fears of deception and sexual exploitation as a divorcee and an actress. There is blurry line between morals and real life; performance and reality. Muir brings the theme of deception in a quiet family home by concealing unimpressive past through the exterior of a sentimental woman. Such self display heralds as a symbol of the upper class. By actualizing an upper class femininity and virtuous womanhood, she uncovers that class distinctions are acted rather than natural happenings. Such upper class constructs possess the function of concealing family and personal history.
All the same, Jean Muir extends her manipulations to innocent members of the Coventry household. This suggests that she manipulates innocent characters that do not account for the problem that she has encountered in her life. Muir appeals to Lucia’s vanity by praising Lucia’s mother’s portrait. She makes comments about Lucia by arousing her feelings of class superiority and triggering her sympathy simultaneously. This generates the privilege of intimacy as she swings the household’s emotions between two different phases. Muir quickly drops Lucia’s affections and move to Gerard. Muir uses romantic conventions into convincing Gerard about a wholly new side to her. In the end, she creates a fight between Ned and Gerard by creating the impression that both are enemies. It is discernible that Muir destabilizes the life of a quiet family by manipulating the members into behaving the way she expect them.
By saying that Jean Muir possesses psychological failings, it impresses that she is a product of her harsh environment. This creates feelings of revenge and manipulation that she uses to vent. Jean Muir is, however, classifiable as a femme fatale character that possesses an enigmatic past, a created prominent present and a revengeful future. She is just a cunning woman who possesses theatrical talents of manipulating her world. As regards family values, Muir is a destructive character that makes brothers almost murder each other. Besides, she breaks the marriage of Gerard and Lucia. The whole of the Coventry house deteriorates because of her manipulations.