Death and the Maiden

by

Ariel Dorfman

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Death and the Maiden: Act 1, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Still before dawn, Roberto regains consciousness. Realizing he is tied up, he struggles desperately—and unsuccessfully—to free himself. Paulina sits in front of him with the gun. With a calm demeanor, she says: “Good morning, Doctor… Miranda, isn’t it? Doctor Miranda.”
The gun gives Paulina control over the situation and prevents her from being overpowered physically by either Roberto or Gerardo throughout the play. Her greeting suggests a certain familiarity between the two, which, at this point, Roberto does not—or pretends not to—share.
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Paulina talks about a female friend she had at medical school who was also a “Miranda.” She was a brilliant mind, Paulina explains, but there’s no telling what became of her. Paulina mentions her own studies, saying she never qualified and that Roberto can probably guess why.
Though the audience doesn’t know exactly what happened to Paulina yet, it’s already clear that it was something of a horrific nature. This discussion —or monologue, more accurately—underlines the way Paulina’s life has been disrupted by what happened to her.
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Paulina explains that she was fortunate that she had Gerardo to turn to after she left university. She’s heard that, now that the military isn’t in charge, the university might be allowing people who were kicked out to reapply; she says she’s considering doing so. She then apologizes to Roberto for “chatting away” when she’s supposed to be making a “nice breakfast.” 
Dorfman contrasts the violent tension of the situation with the casual air that Paulina affects during her talking at—not with—Roberto. This “chatting away” serves to underscore who is in charge in this situation. Gerardo, for his part, is still asleep. Paulina’s comment about breakfast recalls the earlier casual sexism of Roberto and Gerardo.
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Paulina also apologizes to Roberto that “this must remain, for the moment, a monologue.” She says he can have his say in good time, once Gerardo wakes up. Opening up her bedroom door, she tells Roberto that the “real real truth” is that he looks “slightly bored.”
Paulina repeats Roberto’s catchphrase back at him, attempting to make him realize that she knows who he really is.
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Paulina takes out a cassette of Schubert’s string quartet “Death and the Maiden,” which she found in Roberto’s car. She puts it on. She hasn’t listened to it for a while, she explains, because whenever she hears any Schubert it makes her feel “extremely ill.” Schubert was her favorite composer and, Paulina goes on, she had always promised to herself that she would one day “recover him, bring him back from the grave so to speak.”
Paulina’s trauma has had a visceral, long-lasting effect on her. The sensory experiences during her suffering have greatly affected the function of her memory, causing her reaction to Schubert to be one of nausea rather than pleasure. This reversal mirrors the way rape takes an action that is meant to be enjoyable and transforms it into a sensory and psychological terror.
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Paulina calls out to Gerardo, “Isn’t this quartet marvelous, my love?” She says to Roberto that now she’ll be able to listen to Schubert again, perhaps even attend a concert. She asks if he knows that Schubert was a homosexual, before noting that of course he does—he was the one who “kept repeating it over and over again” while playing the tape. She asks if the one she found in Roberto’s car is the same tape, or whether he buys a new one each year to keep the sound pure.
Paulina’s shout to Gerardo is mocking in tone, aping the way that people consume culture and perform their refinement. Evidently, by playing Schubert in the given situation, Paulina feels she is reclaiming a piece of herself.
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Gerardo comes in, dozy from sleep. It takes him a moment to notice the scene in front of him. Astonished, he asks Paulina, “what the hell is going on” referring to the scene as a “kind of madness.” He moves to help Roberto, but she threatens him with the gun. Paulina tells Gerardo that “it’s him”—“the doctor who played Schubert.” She recognizes his voice, she says. Gerardo says that she’s “sick,” reminding her that she was blindfolded during “those weeks” so couldn’t possibly recognize Roberto.
Gerardo is understandably surprised by what he finds in the living room. Paulina uses the gun to make it very clear that she means business. As a phallic symbol, the gun also signals the reversal in power roles. The audience gets more information about what happened to Paulina; the fact that she was blindfolded explains why she has a heightened attention to other sensory input.
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Paulina says she may be “sick” but she can still recognize a voice. She asks Roberto to confirm whether “when we lose one of our faculties, the others compensate.” It’s not just the voice she recognizes, continues Paulina, but his laugh and “certain phrases he uses.” She tells Gerardo that not an hour has gone by when she hasn’t heard that voice: “that same voice, next to me, next to my ear, that voice mixed with saliva.”
Gerardo and Roberto frequently characterize Paulina as “sick” or “mad.” Paulina expresses the disturbing intimacy involved in rape and demonstrates how heightened her other senses were when her sight was denied. The audience must judge the evidence stacking up against Roberto and ask whether it is sufficient to prove that Paulina is correct.
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Paulina imitates Roberto’s voice in conversation with another man, saying, “‘Give her a bit more. This bitch can take a bit more.’ ‘You sure Doctor? What if the cunt dies on us?’ ‘She’s not even near fainting. Give it to her, up another notch.’”
Paulina imitates the voice and phrases of those who abused her, demonstrating their entrenched sexism. Going “up another notch” is a reference to the amount of voltage her torturers were administering to her.
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Gerardo pleads with Paulina to put down the gun, saying there is “no possible dialogue” while she points it at him. She says, “on the contrary, as soon as I stop pointing it at you, all dialogue will automatically terminate.” He warns her of “serious consequences” and asks Roberto to forgive Paulina’s behavior. She tells Gerardo not to “dare ask forgiveness from that piece of shit.”
Paulina’s control of the situation depends on her possession of the gun and, accordingly, her monopoly over any potential violence.
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Gerardo asks Paulina to untie Roberto. When she insists that she won’t, he moves towards Roberto. At this, Paulina fires the gun, surprised at the recoil. Roberto looks desperate. Gerardo tells Paulina to give him the gun, saying, “you can’t do this.” She replies: “When are you going to stop telling me what I can and can’t do.”
Here, Roberto genuinely fears for his life. Paulina has evidently not used a gun before, such is her surprise at the strength of the recoil. Paulina indicates that she is not going to let Gerardo tell her what to do, reversing their usual power dynamic.
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Paulina suddenly remembers that that she has phoned a mechanic and tells Gerardo to get dressed to greet him. Gerardo pleads with her to “start being reasonable.” She tells him to be reasonable: “they never did anything to you.” Gerardo tries to argue that they did, before interrupting himself to say, “we’re not competing for some horror prize here, damn it.” Even if she’s right about Roberto’s identity, he continues, what “Right” does she have to treat him like this.
Again, Gerardo tries to paint Paulina as “unreasonable”— a mad woman. His comment about the “horror prize” is telling, as it becomes apparent through the play that Paulina’s suffering under the dictatorship was much greater than his own. His question about “Right” is an attempt to appeal to higher ideals of justice, but this seems extremely remote to Paulina because the country does not have a judicial system she feels she can put her trust in.
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The mechanics truck pulls up outside, prompting Paulina to close the curtains. Gerardo asks her if she’s considered that he could call the police. She doubts he would do that and says that if he does she’ll shoot Roberto before turning the gun on herself. He says she’s “unrecognizable.” Paulina tells Roberto to explain what he did to her to make her this “crazy,” and says to Gerardo that she intends to put Roberto on trial “right here. Today.” Or, she asks, “is your famous Investigating Commission going to do it?”
Paulina, essentially, intends to do what Gerardo’s commission can’t: put Roberto on trial. Having already fired the gun once, her threat of violence and suicide appears credible. Making Gerardo go with the mechanic to fetch his car also allows Paulina to have time alone with Roberto in the following scene.
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