Behind a Mask

The Art of Acting: Character and Social Class in Behind a Mask College

Louisa May Alcott’s novella “Behind a Mask” portrays a protagonist who uses her acting skills to move up in society from a governess to a lady of British aristocracy. An article written by Elizabeth Schewe titled, “Domestic Conspiracy: Class Conflict and Performance in Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Behind a Mask’”, brings to light the implications surrounding the governess's actions within in the Coventry home. Jean Muir, the governess, uses her talent as an actress and her knack for reading peoples character, seeing behind their “masks”, in order to achieve her own goals of financial security and a respectable title. By first understanding the role of the governess in the household, one can see how Muir artfully carries on her act, while, at the same time, showing how the Coventry family performs in much the same manner.

It is important to first draw attention to the role of the governess in the household. The job itself reveals the act aristocrats and high society perform to those of a lower caste. As Schewe states, “It is the governess who teaches…manners, speech, and demeanor—the markings of the upper class that is supposed to be innate” (Schewe 581). Therefore the upper class, though not openly, acknowledges that they in fact are...

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