Death and the Maiden

by

Ariel Dorfman

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

Summary
Analysis
It’s now midday. Roberto is still tied up. Paulina is talking to him, looking out at the sea, rocking gently in her chair. She is evidently part way through the story of what happened to her, speaking now of what happened when she was released from capture. She says she couldn’t go back to her parents as they were so pro-military.
The sea (and the ocean) are often associated with the depths of the human psyche and here is no exception. The sea facilitates Paulina’s recollections, and Roberto is forced to bear witness to her testimony. This allows Paulina to make him know what her suffering was truly like and is an attempt to break down the emotional detachment he must have felt if, as is alleged, he did rape and torture her.
Themes
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Paulina breaks off to say how “bizarre” it is that she is telling Roberto these things as if he is her “confessor.” There are things she’s never told Gerardo, let alone her mother, she says. Roberto gestures to her. If she’s hungry, says Paulina, he’ll have to wait till Gerardo is back. She again impersonates a man’s voice: “You hungry? You wanna eat? I’ll give you something to eat, sweet cunt, I’ll give you something big and filling so you can forget you’re hungry.”
Paulina frequently tries on the voices of her torturers. If Roberto is who she thinks he is, this mimicry is another way in which she demonstrates her temporary power over his life. Another interpretation of her impersonations is that they show the fragility of her mental state and/or the intense hold her traumatic memories have over her. The specific quotes are illustrative of the cruelty she suffered.
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Paulina continues, talking about Gerardo. Roberto’s colleagues, she says, wanted to know who was “fucking” her. She never gave up Gerardo’s name; if she had, she points out, Gerardo would not be on the commission but would be one of the people they’d be trying to find out what happened to. She explains that during the dictatorship she and Gerardo smuggled people out of the country to safety.
Despite her terrible suffering, Paulina showed incredible mental resilience which represents a kind of psychological victory over her abusers. Her and Gerardo’s previous work to help people escape shows the bravery that she and her husband once shared.
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Gerardo arrives back at the house, prompting Paulina to pick up the gun again. She asks him whether the flat tire was easy to fix. He tells her to sit down and “really listen” to him. He says that if she forges and ignores evidence without giving Roberto a chance to defend himself she will be just as bad as the previous regime. Paulina counters that she intends to give Roberto that right, and that Gerardo will be able to act as his lawyer. 
Gerardo tries to reason with Paulina by appealing to her sense of fairness and justice. She has already thought of that and, at this moment, has every intention of giving Roberto a fair trial, facilitated by Gerardo as his lawyer. Gerardo’s point, sincere or not, is that she risks behaving in the same morally reprehensible way as the previous authorities.
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Paulina removes the gag from Roberto and switches on a cassette recorder, telling him that everything he says will be on tape. Roberto coughs and begs for water. Gerardo gives him some which he gulps down thirstily. “Beats drinking your own piss,” says Paulina.
Paulina wishes to record everything; this is a marked contrast to the way things were under the previous regime, during which people could be made to disappear with a trace. Her comment about drinking “piss” implies that this was something she was forced to do during her captivity.
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Roberto addresses Gerardo, saying, “this is inexcusable. I will never forgive you as long as I live.” Paulina checks the tape recorder is working and plays back Roberto’s words. Roberto protests his innocence, saying he doesn’t know Paulina and that she is “extremely ill, almost prototypically schizoid.” He says that Gerardo, as a “defender of human rights,” must untie him immediately.
Roberto’s first thought on having his gag removed is to address who he feels is the true authority in the room: the man, Gerardo. As Gerardo has done previously, Roberto “diagnoses” Paulina as mentally ill.
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Paulina points the gun at Roberto’s head, asking, “who are you threatening?” She tells him that “in here, for now,” she is in command. Roberto says he needs to go to the bathroom. She makes Gerardo untie Roberto’s legs and insists that she, not Gerardo, will accompany him to the bathroom: “It’s not as if it’s the first time he’s going to take his—instrument out in front of me.”
Paulina reminds Roberto who is in control of the situation. There is something demeaning about Roberto needing permission to go to the bathroom, which Paulina enjoys. The use of the word “instrument” nods to the fact her rapist was a doctor.
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Paulina escorts Roberto to the toilet at gunpoint. When they return, she makes Gerardo tie up Roberto again. Gerardo pleads with Paulina to let him to talk to her privately, and they go out to the terrace. 
Gerardo thinks he can reason with Paulina, if he can just speak to her one-to-one.
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Gerardo questions Paulina’s intentions with these “insane acts.” She says it’s not “vengeance,” as she is going to give Roberto the “guarantees he never gave me.” Gerardo warns that if Paulina wants to kill Roberto she’ll have to kill him first, but Paulina denies she has any desire to murder.
Here is another mention of Paulina’s “insanity.” Paulina insists that she wants to give Roberto a fair trial—that is, she wants to uphold higher ethical and moral standards than the previous military regime.
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Gerardo, exasperated, asks what Paulina is going to do Roberto, “all this because fifteen years ago someone…” Paulina implores Gerardo to say what exactly it was that “someone” did to her. He hesitates, before saying, “they tortured you.” “And what else?” she asks. Taking her in his arms, Gerardo whispers, “They raped you.” Paulina tells him she was raped fourteen times; she lied to him about not keeping count.
Gerardo implies that, because what happened to Paulina was fifteen years ago, she ought to move on. What he doesn’t realize is how visceral Paulina’s suffering was then and still is now. He evidently finds it difficult to say the word “rape,” as if not saying it somehow makes it less true. Paulina’s recollection of how many times she is raped is meant to increase the reliability of her testimony as well as underscore the horror of her torture. 
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Paulina returns to the topic of the night she was released. She remembers Gerardo saying they would put “these bastards on trial.” She asks him who she’s supposed to go to now. Gerardo complains that there won’t even be a Commission now because of her actions. Furthermore, he says, he’ll have to resign. He asks her if she “wants the time back when these people decided our life and death,” begging her to free Roberto. He thinks Roberto is a “man we can trust.”
If Roberto is Paulina’s abuser, his attempt to ingratiate himself with Gerardo appear to have worked; Gerardo seems to side with Roberto more than Paulina at this point. He also seems more concerned with his career than with the process of healing that Paulina’s trauma requires.
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Paulina tells Gerardo that he’s being naïve. She says the Commission can’t help her, as it only deals with cases of those who have died. But she has a voice, she expresses, and she is using it for the first time in years. Gerardo reiterates that he will have to resign; Paulina asks if the “real real truth” is that he will resign “because of your mad wife, who was mad because she stayed silent and is now mad because she can speak?”
Paulina expressly spells out that her actions represent her empowerment. She also uses phrases from both men against Gerardo: “real real truth” and “mad.” This again underscores her control of the situation. Furthermore, her point that she will be viewed as mad whether she is silent or whether she takes action highlights the difficult situation victims of such crimes find themselves in.
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Paulina asks Gerardo to “wait just a sec.” She goes back into the living room and sees Roberto about to free himself. She ties him up again more firmly. Once again putting on a man’s voice, she asks “Hey, don’t you like our hospitality? Want to leave so soon, bitch?” She passes her hands up and down his body, “almost as if she were caressing it.”
This is an almost comic moment in a dramatically tense play. Roberto is on the brink of freeing himself, but Paulina arrives just in time. Her comments again mimic her torturers, and her momentary caresses of Roberto show that she wants to mock her rapist’s actions as part of her overall empowerment.
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Paulina returns to the terrace and tells Gerardo that it’s not just Roberto’s voice she recognizes—it’s also his skin and his smell. Gerardo says that if Roberto’s guilty it’s even more reason to set him free. If everyone acted like Paulina, he says, “the whole return to democracy can go screw itself." He says she's still “a prisoner … locked in that basement …” He implores her to free herself “from them.” Paulina asks if he expects her to smile at Roberto in a few years time when they inevitably meet in public.
Paulina highlights the link between her memory, her trauma, and her senses. Gerardo piles psychological pressure on her and accuses her of being a prisoner of her own mentality. He forgets—or ignores—that this is because she feels she can’t let her attackers get away with what they’ve done—their freedom denies Paulina hers.
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Paulina suggests that she and Gerardo “reach a compromise … Isn’t that what this transition is all about … The Commission can investigate the crimes but nobody is punished for them?” Gerardo asks Paulina to tell him what she wants.
The Commission seems to have a paradoxical purpose. In a democracy, crime is meant to be punished, but the mere discovery of crimes appears to be the Commission’s intention. The audience has to decide whether that is useful in and of itself or just an important stage in an overall project for justice.
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When she first heard Roberto’s voice last night, Paulina explains, her initial thought had been to do to him exactly what was done to her, “minute by minute, instrument by instrument.” She says Roberto was the worst of her torturers; the other were “so vulgar” but the doctor “would play Schubert, he would talk about science” and quote Nietzsche. Gerardo is evidently shocked to hear that the doctor who tortured her would quote Nietzsche, as Roberto did earlier.
Here Paulina espouses the biblical formula for justice, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” That is, by exactly replicating her suffering she can somehow even it out or make it equal. The obvious difficulty is that she might then have to consider herself as bad as her attackers. Paulina doesn’t know that Roberto earlier quoted Nietzsche to Gerardo, but it’s another piece of evidence in her favor. Gerardo interestingly keeps that revelation private.
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Paulina goes on, explaining that the only thing that got her through life after what happened was to imagine “pushing their head into a bucket of their own shit, or electricity.” She explains that she had to fake her orgasms with Gerardo, because any “idea of currents” going through her would remind her of her torture. When she’d heard Roberto’s voice, she goes on, she thought she would like “to have him raped,” even toying with the idea that Gerardo would have to do it on her behalf. She’d also considered using a broomstick.
This gives a sense of the horrific sensory violation that Paulina’s attackers forced upon her. Her admittance to Gerardo that her orgasms are faked is both an intimate show of honesty and a potentially upsetting fact for him, threatening his sense of masculinity. The gruesome details of her proposed rape of Roberto highlight the physical terror of her own suffering.
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Paulina explains that after those fantasies of revenge she’d decided that what she actually wants from Roberto is his confession. She wants to have a signed record of everything he did, and of all of his victims. If he does that, she says, she will let him go. Paulina instructs Gerardo to convince Roberto to confess: “I’d say it’s a lot more pleasant than having to fuck him.” Gerardo asks, “what if he has nothing to confess?” If Roberto is innocent, replies Pauline, “then he’s really screwed.”
Paulina puts forward a different idea of justice, suggesting that the recording of Roberto’s crimes for posterity is as important as punishment. In exposing the truth, she feels she would be closer to moving on. She also shows that she isn’t just thinking of herself, but sees her actions as an attempt to get some kind of justice for many other victims too. Her last words of the scene remind the reader that it isn’t 100 percent certain that Roberto is the man she thinks he is.
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