Can a Mask Reveal a Person’s True Identity? A Deeper Analysis of The Multi-dimensional Narrative “The Secret Woman”

The underlying theme of this narrative is deception. As the reader progresses through the story, they are keenly aware that both the husband and the wife are deceiving one another in different ways. The husband in the narrative describes his own actions as a “school boy lie” (Colette 327). He disguises himself in costume to remain anonymous at the opera. I think the reader too often jumps to the guilty actions of Irene, and fails to observe the distrusting behavior of her husband. As he judges her seemingly split personalities, he fails to reflect on his own shortcomings as a husband. These shortcomings are exemplified by his perception and description of his wife. On page 327, he depicts his wife’s face as “pink, matt and long, like a delicate sugared almond.” In this moment, he is clearly objectifying Irene. In his mind, she is the beautiful entity that can be fully controlled and understood. As soon as she wavers from his personal image of her, she becomes “like the conger-eels”. It’s interesting to assume that as Irene adds to her elaborate costume, more of her true identity is revealed. Her goal in this story is to achieve “the monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest in her crude, native state.” (Colette 331). In essence, she wants to be herself. In order to achieve this blissful state, she approaches the battle field of constricting gender norms by wearing her own suit of armor. Her lace mask and purple hood give her confidence that allows her to strive for her own sexual desires. I think what conflicts her husband the most, is that she only desires to “collect some other passer-by, forget him, and simply enjoy”(Colette 331). He wants to view this dramatic adulterous event, but is instead left dumbfounded by her uncommitted affairs. He is left unsatisfied and confused by the complexity of his wife’s character.

3 thoughts on “Can a Mask Reveal a Person’s True Identity? A Deeper Analysis of The Multi-dimensional Narrative “The Secret Woman”

  1. Ella B

    Interesting. This post made me think about the double standard that the story exemplifies. The husband thought that he told a mere “school boy lie” about going to the party but questioned his wife’s innocence.



    I also agree that one of the main points in the story is to call out the husband’s assumption of his wife’s innocence. In reality, she is as devious as him. She lies to him by saying how she would never go to a party like that. The husband also assumes that she could only be here to meet someone else she is in love with. This turns out to be false when the wife is seen being almost as objectifying as the husband. She holds no emotional attachment to the men she is getting intimate with, which the husband never even considered.


  3. Katie V.

    I agree with the idea of a mask allowing someone to be true to who they really are. I also really liked how you compared the mask to a suit of armor. The mask not only conceals her identity but also protects her and gives her the ability to be braver than she otherwise would have been.


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