Anonymity in “The Secret Woman”

The short story “The Secret Woman” written by Colette follows a husband trying to catch his wife cheating. Over the course of the story, the husband follows Irene through a ball where everyone present wears masks that obscure their faces. As the husband follows Irene, it becomes clear to the reader that she is acting abnormally, “… the eel-like Pierrot noticed him. ‘Is that a declaration, purple Domino?’ He did not reply, for he was stifled with surprise, waiting and nightmare…” (44). This shows that Irene is acting very differently to how her husband would expect her to act, to the point of leaving him speechless. The reason why Irene is acting unusual is because she believes herself to be anonymous and that no one at the ball will recognize her, “… she was going to leave again the next moment, wander about once more, collect some other passer-by, forger him, and simply enjoy, until she felt tired and went back home, the monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest in her crude, native state, of being the unknown woman, eternally solitary and shameless…” (46). This shows that the reason she is acting abnormally is because of her anonymity, because she is the “unknown woman” who doesn’t need to worry about being criticized for her actions.

This is similar to how people often say things they wouldn’t normally say and do things they wouldn’t normally do when they believe that no one is watching or that they can’t be identified. Overall, Irene’s surprising behavior in “The Secret Woman” can be explained as her believing that she can say what she wants and act how she wants because she won’t be recognized.

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