Les Belles Soeurs Summary

Les Belles Soeurs Summary

This entire play is set in the kitchen of the protagonist, Germaine Lauzon: a middle-aged woman in her forties who has one adult daughter named Linda. The Lauzons live in an apartment in Montréal, Québec, Canada. They come from a large family: Germaine has three sisters and an assortment of in-laws, neighbors, and friends. All are at least nominally Roman Catholic, and all but one of the characters speaks in Joual, a working-class dialect of French with its own unique pronunciations and syntax. The use of Joual by definition identifies the location and socio-economic class of the women in the play. The play is set in the early 1960s.

Germaine, a working-class woman accustomed to a life with few luxuries, has received a windfall: she has won a million trading stamps. Trading stamps were an early customer loyalty program. They were issued by many Canadian department and grocery stores in the early 1960s prior to the invention of loyalty cards, electronic reward systems, and other customer loyalty incentives. For every purchase, customers received stamps from the department store. Some stores issued stamps proportionate to the amount spent, and it was not unheard-of for multiple stores to cooperate by honoring one another's stamps. Customers collected the stamps and pasted them into booklets. Once a booklet was full of pasted stamps, it could be redeemed for store merchandise much the way modern frequent flyer miles or shopper reward points can be redeemed. However, an incomplete book of stamps, or the stamps themselves, had no value whatsoever. The effort required to paste the stamps into books limited the extent to which the stamps could be traded, sold, or used as currency in a manner not related to the issuing store. Also, by requiring the lottery winner to paste the stamps into books before honoring the stamps, the retail store avoided possible conflicts with contemporary laws that restricted private lotteries.

Germaine's windfall was potentially worth several thousand dollars, enough to decorate her home, but not enough to render her independently wealthy. Yet in order to collect anything whatsoever, the stamps had to be pasted into books: a boring and time consuming task. To take the edge off the boredom and to make the work go more quickly, Germaine solicits help from her daughter Linda and from several of her friends. The women-- fifteen in total counting Germaine and her uninvited younger sister Pierrette who crashes the stamp party near the end of the play -- attend Germaine's impromptu event.

Believing that everyone she invites is happy for her and glad to help fill books of stamps for her while she alone benefits from the windfall, Germaine fails to realize how jealous the other women are. None of them are well off financially, many are poorer than Germaine, and several, particularly Germaine's neighbor Marie-Ange Brouillette, are angry that they themselves did not win the stamps. They believe themselves more worthy than Germaine, and some of the women actually hate her. Over the course of the play, several of the women begin to steal Germaine's books of completed stamps until very few are left. Germaine does not notice the thefts until it is too late to do anything about them. When she finally notices that the people she loves best in the world are stealing from her, she is devastated and her relationship with them is ruined. The main plot, accordingly, is very simple. However Tremblay introduces other subplots related to different characters.

The theme of intergenerational conflict figures prominently in the play. There are three generations present: the eldest generation represented by the eighty-three-year-old Olivine Dubuc, the middle-aged generation represented by Germaine and most of her friends, and the youngest generation represented by Germaine's daughter Linda and her two friends Lise Paquette and Ginette Ménard, all of whom are questioning and possibly rebelling against the societal expectations and customs of their elders. A few of the characters, such as Pierrette, appear to straddle the generational boundaries and defy the rather conservative expectations of the elder generations. The club where Pierrette works is viewed as a den of iniquity by most of the middle-aged or older women, but the younger women regard it as a fun place to socialize.

Tremblay uses some key literary techniques to highlight various characters' thoughts and opinions. One of his most frequently used techniques is the deliberate violation of the fourth wall. Several of the women approach the front of the stage, stand in the spotlight, and soliloquize about their lives, their thwarted dreams, their frustrations, and the factors that made them who they are. This helps humanize the different characters (many of whom have similar first names) and differentiate them from one another.

All the characters in the play are working-class women, as evidenced by their use of the Joual dialect instead of the "proper" French taught to them in school, which is also heard on the radio. Yet most of them aspire to a better life than they presently lead. The pretentious Lisette de Courval, for example, pretends to live a much more affluent, upper-class lifestyle than her friends. Having been to France with her husband for a vacation earlier in their marriage, she affects a French accent instead of the Joual used by her peers. Nobody is fooled. In her soliloquy, Lisette reveals that she herself is not as rich or prosperous as she tries to appear to be. She covets Germaine's stamps and believes that if they were hers she would have the belongings and the lifestyle to go along with what she believes to be her rightful social position.

Tremblay sometimes allows character development to occur during interactions between characters. Rose Ouimet complains vociferously about her husband, criticizing him incessantly and discussing his inadequies freely with her friends. Thérèse Dubuc, the daughter-in-law of Olivine and her primary caregiver, is frustrated by the burden of caring for her aging, ailing mother-in-law who needs help with basic daily activities. She takes her frustration out on the elderly woman and abuses her.

Religion, and particularly religious hypocrisy, figure prominently in the play. Most of the middle-aged women are extremely conservative and consider themselves religious. They obey the overt requirements of their faith in a public and attention-seeking way, such as by kneeling when a priest's voice comes over the radio. Yet the practical applications of piety, such as respecting other people and their belongings, are not as well observed. Most of the women steal stamps from their hostess, their thefts becoming more overt as the play continues. Many criticize Pierrette, Germaine's younger sister who is something of a black sheep of the family, for working in a nightclub. Des-Neiges Verrette is involved in a romantic relationship with a traveling brush salesman to whom she is not married. Whether he is in fact married to someone else is not directly stated, however the audience is free to make their own deductions. Several of the older women criticize single mothers, unaware that Lise Paquette is pregnant with an unwanted baby. The stigma of single motherhood is so intense that Lise is actually considering an abortion instead of carrying the baby to term. Yet when Pierrette unexpectedly shows up and recognizes Angéline Sauvé as a regular club attendee, it exposes Angéline's hypocrisy and shocks many of her friends.

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