By Cara Mulcahey, IV Form
On Sherman Alexie’s “Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest”
The short story “Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest” focuses on the grueling conditions motel maids face every day. It follows the
life of a motel maid named Marie who despises cleaning but does it for the money it provides. Marie gets physically assaulted by her coworkers, sees horrific sights in motel rooms, cleans revolting messes guest leave behind, and does not complain about the dehumanization she faces on a daily basis. Sherman Alexie, the author of “Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest,” utilizes Marie’s self vs. self-conflict about her job as a way to display the horrors motel maids face every day and why they should be appreciated in society.
Marie loathes being a hotel maid because cleaning repulses her and her coworkers have mistreated her. While she had gotten used to cleaning abhorrent bathrooms, making beds, and vacuuming, the idea of cleaning people’s leftover
food revolts her: “More than anything, Marie hated to clean up food” (Alexie 6). When people left their rooms particularly messy, Marie would only clean the surface to give off “the illusion of clean” (Alexie 7). Marie does not enjoy cleaning and only does it for the money. She hates going to work every day and doing the same thing repeatedly: “She dreaded the marathon of cleaning that likely awaited her” (Alexie 7). In addition to the cleaning aspect of her job, other motel maids had physically assaulted her and stolen from her. She says she had been kicked, slapped, punched, and bitten while at work, and her coworkers had stolen her purse and car in the past. These horrible work conditions would give anyone enough reason to dread going to work, including Marie.
Marie’s deteriorating physical condition exhibits how strenuous a motel maid’s job is. Her job requires her to squat, kneel, bend over, carry heavy loads, and be exposed to toxic chemicals daily. Expectedly, most of Marie’s coworkers “only lasted a few weeks” (Alexie 8). Her back problems are exacerbated by carrying heavy bags of towels and garbage, and she tears her back once or twice a year: “One day, she’d twisted her back so severely that she’d collapsed in pain on the sidewalk” (Alexie 12). Her knees, ankles, and feet often hurt from all the standing, squatting, and kneeling the job of motel maid entails. Additionally, she develops arthritis and carpal-tunnel syndrome. “Recurring rashes caused by the soaps and disinfectants and window cleaners” provoke Marie’s skin to itch and burn (Alexie 13). These problems affect her life at home as well: “She could not hold her coffee cup or toothbrush” (Alexie 13). Being a motel maid is a laborious task, and Marie’s physical pain exemplifies this.
Marie’s job provides an insufficient amount of money. She cannot afford luxuries such as “a good pair of work shoes” (Alexie 12). Her car supplies her with an inadequate form of transportation: “Then she got into her car. It started on the fourth try” (Alexie 15). Her salary is below average with her earning a measly $600 biweekly. She is incapable of taking proper care of her body because of her grueling job, and she has to visit a free clinic to tend to her various health issues provoked by her job. Although her job gives her little money, “she needed her job” (Alexie 6). After she retires, she indicates that she barely has enough money to get by: “With Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare and good luck, Marie and her husband would survive” (Alexie 15). Marie is either unable or unmotivated to find a more suitable job that would allow her to afford luxuries instead of just necessities.
Motel maids should be appreciated in society. Marie is a prominent example of this by exhibiting the cruelty they face daily. The job is dehumanizing by forcing maids to clean “people’s feces and urine” (Alexie 3). Marie is grateful when a person left the room particularly clean: “There were no human or animal body fluids splashed on the floors, walls, or ceilings” (Alexie 6). Those filthy rooms require hours of time and energy dedicated to cleaning. In addition to the repulsive aspect of the job, motel maids are put into perilous situations. Marie states that a coworker of hers was “assaulted and strangled by a serial killer” (Alexie 9). Although this is a rare instance, most jobs do not involve murder. Additionally, motel maids are exposed to “poisonous and intoxicating fumes” (Alexie 9) that flow into their lungs and are capable of causing serious diseases. The disgusting and dangerous aspects of motel maid’s jobs call for society to value them.
Motel maids face arduous conditions at work with the constant cleaning they are required to perform. People staying in motels should leave their rooms clean when they check out in order to ameliorate the lives of motel maids. Cleaning up messes in motel rooms is a respectful way to leave motels after staying in them, and it will be greatly appreciated. The strenuous conditions motel maids endure also displays that many people’s lives are far from perfect. People should express gratitude for what they have and not take anything for granted.
Cara Mulcahey is a IV Form day student from Sudbury, MA. She enjoys skiing, playing soccer, and hanging out with friends.