Death and the Maiden

by

Ariel Dorfman

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Death and the Maiden: Act 3, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s some months later. Paulina and Gerardo are at a concert, elegantly dressed. They sit in the crowd (perhaps in the theater audience itself, suggests the stage direction). The music stops. After the sound of applause, Gerardo begins talking to members of the audience as if they were at a concert. He talks about “the Final Report of the Commission,” explaining that it was difficult but worthwhile work. He says it has helped in the “process of healing.”
Gerardo’s commission has been doing its work and is now the subject of Gerardo’s small talk, suggesting that the commission is a talking point among the general public. The public, of course, is the theater audience. This scene also represents a seeming return to reality and civilization, the characters back in the cultured environs of a concert hall (just as the play’s audience sits in the theater). 
Themes
Memory, Trauma, and the Senses Theme Icon
Authority, Society, and the Public Theme Icon
Civilization and Violence Theme Icon
Paulina, meanwhile, has bought some candy. Roberto enters, under a ghostly moonlight of a “phantasmagoric” quality. A bell goes off, indicating that the concert is about to recommence. Gerardo and Paulina sit down. Roberto takes another seat, eyes fixated on Paulina. As Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” plays, she turns to look at Roberto. Soon after, she swiftly turns to face the stage and the mirror. The lights go down.
The play ends on an enigmatic note. There is the clear suggestion that Roberto is a “phantom,” tying in with earlier moments in the play in which Paulina is described as haunted. But it’s a deliberately ambiguous moment: one possibility is that Roberto is a figment of Paulina’s imagination and represents the impossibility that she can ever truly let go of her trauma. The other possibility is that she didn’t kill Roberto and this figure is genuinely him in the flesh, foregrounding the painful fact that, under the new government, victims will have to live side by side with their abusers. Both can’t be true. Paulina’s look into the mirror insists that the final interpretation—and, in fact, the responsibility—belongs to the audience itself.
Themes
Memory, Trauma, and the Senses Theme Icon
Authority, Society, and the Public Theme Icon
Civilization and Violence Theme Icon
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