Death and the Maiden

by

Ariel Dorfman

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

Summary
Analysis
It’s lunchtime. Gerardo spoon-feeds Roberto soup at the table. Roberto’s hands are now tied in front of him, rather than behind his back. Gerardo insists on addressing Roberto as “Doctor Miranda”—as if he were a client. Paulina watches from the terrace. Roberto says Paulina is “mad” and needs some sort of “psychiatric treatment.” Gerardo says that, “to put it brutally, you are her therapy, Doctor.”
There is a strange intimacy between Gerardo and Roberto at this moment, Gerardo effectively having to care for the infantilized Roberto while simultaneously insisting on the formal address of the lawyer-client relationship. Paulina maintains control from afar.
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Gerardo tells Roberto that he needs to confess, otherwise Paulina will kill him. Roberto protests that he has nothing to confess, though he is aware that some doctors were used by the secret police as “consultants in torture sessions.” Gerardo says he must confess, unless he has a way of denying it. Roberto complains that he’d have to change his voice, skin and smell to deny Paulina’s charge against him.
Roberto tries to discredit Paulina’s ability to verify whether he is who she says he is based on the supposed unreliability of her evidence. It’s interesting that Gerardo’s motivation here isn’t to establish or refute Roberto’s guilt, but to try and help him free himself.
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Roberto continues to profess his innocence, describing himself as “a quiet man.” He says the only mistake he’s made is stopping to help Gerardo. Gerardo tells Roberto that he thinks the best idea is for them to “indulge” Paulina. He suggests that Roberto pretend to confess in order to free himself. Roberto angrily tells Gerardo that “instead of proposing dishonorable solutions” he should be “convincing that madwoman of yours to cease this criminal behavior before she ruins your career and ends up in jail or in an insane asylum.” Roberto asks if Gerardo is incapable of imposing “a little order in your own house?”
Gerardo conspires with Roberto to figure out how best to free him, while Roberto continues to protest his innocence. There is something oddly sensuous about his use of the word “indulge,” as if by giving Paulina (false) confirmation of her suspicions they are somehow satisfying a desire within her. Roberto insinuates that Gerardo is not a “real” man—or “real real,” perhaps—implying that he ought to have control over his woman and evidencing yet more misogyny.
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Paulina comes back in. Gerardo asks if she can leave so that he can finish his conversation with Roberto. She agrees, saying, “I’ll leave you men to fix the world.” She returns to the terrace.
Paulina’s comment is steeped in irony, gesturing toward the way in which the men in her world believe that they are more intelligent and practical than she is. But her brief return to the house also reiterates the quiet threat of violence.
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Gerardo again suggests that Roberto falsify a confession in order to “indulge” Paulina and be freed. He thinks that might “liberate her from her phantoms.” Roberto accuses Gerardo of conspiring with Paulina; he thinks Gerardo will kill him as soon as he’s finished his confession: “it’s what any man would do, any real man, if they’d raped his wife, it’s what I would do if somebody had raped my wife. Cut your balls off.”
The notion of Paulina’s trauma as consisting of “phantoms” has important resonance at the end of the play. Roberto continues to appeal to the sense that Paulina, in her actions, has emasculated Gerardo. He also points out that he is in a double bind, as he believes any genuine confession would result in his death anyway.
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Roberto’s comments anger Gerardo and he gets up to fetch the gun. He pauses and says that, actually, first he will follow Roberto’s advice and cut his balls off. He calls Roberto a “fascist,” taking offence at Roberto’s suggestion that he is not a “real man.” When Roberto tries to reason with him, Gerado says that “Gerardo is gone” and that now he’s going to apply the philosophy of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
Gerardo takes Roberto’s bait and briefly plays at being a “macho” man. Though it’s an unconvincing performance, it does gesture towards the way violence proliferates in cycles, revenge acts prompting further revenge acts ad infinitum. This second reference towards biblical justice only highlights that the characters will have to make up their own minds about what is the right course of action—no god is going to intervene.
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Roberto tells Gerardo that he was only “joking.” Gerardo says that he is going to fetch Paulina and let her have the pleasure of killing Roberto. Gerardo says he’s tired of being in the middle. Roberto admits that he’s scared. After a brief pause, Gerardo’s tone changes and he admits that he, too, is scared.
Both men admit to being afraid, emphasizing Paulina’s control over the situation. Gerardo, despite his accusations of irrationality levelled at Paulina, is arguably the character with the least clear perspective on the situation, showing himself highly susceptible to mirroring Roberto’s state of mind.
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Roberto agrees that he will forge a confession, but asks Gerardo to acquire all the details he’s going to need in order to make it credible. Gerardo asks if Roberto is suggesting he deceive his wife; Roberto counters that he is asking him to “save the life of an innocent man.” He asks if Gerardo believes in his innocence, saying he cares what Gerardo thinks (but not Paulina): “She isn’t the voice of a civilization, you are. She isn’t a member of the president’s Commission, you are.” Gerardo leaves to tell Paulina that Roberto needs “a piss.”
Roberto now appeals to Gerardo’s ego, speaking in grandiose terms of Gerardo’s role on the commission. Again, if Roberto is guilty, this could be a cunning strategy on his part to protect himself against future prosecution. The unlikely possibility remains, of course, that he is entirely innocent and sincere in the things that he says.
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