Death and the Maiden

by

Ariel Dorfman

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Death and the Maiden: Act 1, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
An hour later, a car approaches Paulina and Gerardo’s beach house once more. Hearing a knock at the door, Gerardo goes to answer in his pajamas. He reassures Paulina, still in the bedroom, that he will “be careful.”
Because the house they are staying in is so secluded, any car approaching instils fear in Gerardo and Paulina. It’s also suggestive of the way terrible crimes under the old regime were often committed in secret. Many people in Chile under General Pinochet were “disappeared”—made to vanish without a trace.
Themes
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Authority, Society, and the Public Theme Icon
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Gerardo opens the door to find Roberto Miranda standing there. Roberto apologizes profusely for waking them up—he thought they’d be up celebrating. Gerardo apologizes for his attire and says they haven’t gotten used to democracy yet, “that someone knocks on your door at midnight and it’s a friend and not…” Paulina edges out to the terrace to hear the conversation, taking care not to be seen.
Gerardo and Roberto’s exchange is civil and friendly. Paulina, however, once again shows her intense distrust of newcomers. Gerardo’s comment again points towards the fragility of newfound peace under the fledgling democracy.
Themes
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Authority, Society, and the Public Theme Icon
Civilization and Violence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Roberto explains that he had been driving back to his beach house after helping Gerardo, listening to the news. Upon hearing the name of the lawyer chosen to head up the Investigating Commission, he had realized it was Gerardo and decided to come and offer his congratulations.
It’s up to the audience if Roberto’s story seems credible—arguably he could have waited until the morning to visit the house. If he is guilty of the crimes Paulina alleges, perhaps this early attempt to befriend Gerardo is a way of ensuring he is not punished in the future.
Themes
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Roberto asks Gerardo if he would like to hear the “real real truth” about why he’s come to visit. Roberto says he thought about how noble and important Gerardo’s upcoming work will be, how it’s going to “shut the door on the divisions and hatreds of the past” and “help us close an exceptionally painful chapter in our history.” With this in mind, Roberto says he thought the least he could do was return Gerardo’s spare tire to save him that inconvenience.
The phrase “real real truth” is an important part of the play. Paulina, listening in to the two men, recognizes the phrase as one used by her attacker. It’s also a strange phrase—the two “reals” imply that there is a level of truth that is less real. This gestures toward an atmosphere of disinformation and propaganda under the previous dictatorship. Roberto’s comments put forward the idea that a country has a kind of collective trauma when it goes through terrible times.
Themes
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Authority, Society, and the Public Theme Icon
Civilization and Violence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Death and the Maiden PDF
Gerardo thanks Roberto, and the two men laugh about how Paulina gave Gerardo’s car jack to her mother. Gerardo says, “you know women.” At this, Roberto quotes what he thinks is Nietzsche: “We can never entirely possess that female soul.”
Gerardo and Roberto’s comments belie the attitude that men are rational and women are not. Roberto’s Nietzsche quote, while also raising the questionable prospect of possessing female souls, has important repercussions later in the play.
Themes
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Roberto says there’s no need for Gerardo to thank him. As a doctor, Roberto explains, he likes to help people. He says the “real real truth” is that Gerardo is “exactly what this country needs.” They discuss the upcoming Commission. Roberto hopes that it uncovers the names of those who committed atrocities, but Gerardo says the names are to be kept secret.
Like the Nietzsche comment, Roberto’s “real real truth” is one of the utterances that convinces Paulina of Roberto’s identity. If Roberto is indeed the man who raped and tortured Paulina, it’s possible that in this conversation he is trying to glean as much information as possible about the commission in order to best protect himself.
Themes
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Roberto expresses the view that he’s for “killing the whole bunch of them.” Gerardo respectfully disagrees, saying that the death penalty never solved anything. Roberto insists that “there are people who simply don’t deserve to be alive.”
If Roberto is guilty of atrocities under the military dictatorship, the views he expresses here make it less likely for Gerardo to suspect him. His comment speaks to the complicated ethics of administering justice.
Themes
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Authority, Society, and the Public Theme Icon
Gerardo explains to Roberto that one of the many problems the Commission will face is that the Army will try to stand in its way. They say, explains Gerardo, that the investigation is “an insult” and will open “old wounds.” Both men agree that perhaps the shadowy figures who committed atrocities under the previous regime will form some kind of “mafia” or “secret brotherhood” that will keep themselves protected.
One of the great difficulties in a country trying to come to terms with horrors in its past is that many of the perpetrators are likely to still be living within its borders. Different views are expressed throughout the play as to how to deal with this morally difficult situation.
Themes
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Authority, Society, and the Public Theme Icon
Gerardo tells Roberto “in confidence” that the president believes that there are “people who are ready to make statements, so long as their confidentiality is guaranteed.” Gerardo believes that eventually “the names will pour out like water.” Roberto says he wishes that were true.
Gerardo shouldn’t really be telling these things to Roberto, a man he’s only just met. The water imagery relates to the coastal setting.
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Realizing the late hour, Roberto prepares to leave. Gerardo insists that he stay the night with them, refusing to take no for an answer. He says Paulina will cook them breakfast, which convinces Roberto to stay. Besides, says Roberto, the “real real truth” is that he is very tired. Paulina hurriedly returns to the bedroom.
Roberto once more uses his “catchphrase,” further convincing Paulina of his identity. It’s also notable that Gerardo simply expects Paulina to play the role of housewife and cook the two men breakfast in the morning.
Themes
Female Empowerment Theme Icon
Gerardo shows Roberto his room, apologizing that he can’t offer him a toothbrush. Roberto dismisses him, saying a toothbrush is one of “two things you never share.” They go to their respective bedrooms. As Gerardo explains to Paulina that they have a guest, she pretends to be half-asleep. “Tomorrow,” Gerardo tells Paulina, “you can make us a nice breakfast.”
Roberto’s is another example of casual misogyny in the play, implying that women are objects that may or may not be shared at the whim of men. Gerardo’s comment to Paulina is also misogynistic, falsely framing breakfast as something he is giving her permission to make.
Themes
Female Empowerment Theme Icon