On the surface, this book is a story about a maid and a master. Neither of them have names nor do we even know what they look like. The maid is striving to achieve perfection as defined by the master and "the manuals." Every time she makes an error--no matter how slight, she backs out of the room and begins the task again.
When the master finds fault with her, he punishes her. He is frustrated with her, frustrated with her not only because she is imperfect, but because she cannot understand how difficult his job is and how he can never let the slightest flaw go uncorrected--even when he is tired and would rather let her slip into carelessness.
Yet, the more he punishes her, the worse she becomes at her tasks. She becomes increasingly sloppy, clumsy, and forgetful. Eventually the care for her task and the love of her work lifts from her and she feels freer and more relaxed even as the intensity of punishments increase.
As the maid becomes more free, the master becomes more tied down.
Interwoven in the strivings of the maid and the punishments of the master are other recurring elements. The garden is always right outside the window, a garden that occupies their thoughts but that they seem unable to reach for most of the novel. The master has recurring dreams about his teachers and his schooldays. The maid is constantly finding horrifying and frighteningly inappropriate objects in the master's bed.
It is a story of obsession and obligation.
This report prepared by Bridgette Redman