Death and the Maiden


Ariel Dorfman

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Themes and Colors
Memory, Trauma, and the Senses Theme Icon
Authority, Society, and the Public Theme Icon
Female Empowerment Theme Icon
Civilization and Violence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Death and the Maiden, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Memory, Trauma, and the Senses

Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden is a harrowing play that centers on Paulina, a woman attempting to come to terms with having been abducted, tortured, and raped under her country’s previous dictatorial regime. Having suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of her abductors, Paulina is forced to confront her trauma when her husband, Gerardo, is visited by Roberto, a man whose voice and habitual phrases seem to match those of the…

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Authority, Society, and the Public

Ariel Dorfman has made no secret of the fact that he wrote Death and the Maiden to study what happens when a dictatorship transitions into a democracy, and moreover how the public relates to this shift in authority. As is written at the start of the play, “the time is the present and the place, a country that is probably Chile but could be any country that has given itself a democratic government just after…

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Female Empowerment

Paulina is a strong, intelligent woman who has suffered the double injustice of being raped and knowing that her attacker has in all likelihood escaped any possibility of punishment. And though her husband, Gerardo, appears to be supportive of her, his actions frequently suggest otherwise. The sudden appearance of Roberto, the man who she feels certain is her attacker, gives her an impromptu opportunity to empower herself by taking the issue into her…

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Civilization and Violence

Death and the Maiden seeks to highlight the way in which the threat of, and capacity for, violence lurks beneath the surface of civilization. It asks the viewer to notice the inherent instability of society’s culture and civility and provokes them to think about their own capacity for violence. In doing so, the play functions as a kind of warning—a portent of mankind’s tragic ability to revert to violence and moral depravity. 

Though Paulina

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