Death and the Maiden

Death and the Maiden Summary and Analysis of Act 1, Scenes 2 & 3


Scene 2 begins an hour after the conclusion of Scene 1. The Escobars' house is quiet. Then, there is a knock at the door. Gerardo, surprised and unsettled by the late visitor, enters the living room to see who it is. As he walks to the door, he reassures a nervous Paulina (who is offstage) that everything is alright. 

He answers the door and discovers Roberto Miranda, the doctor who gave Gerardo a ride home after his tire burst. As the two men talk, Paulina hides on the terrace unnoticed, listening to their conversation. 

Roberto apologizes for the intrusion, explaining that he was driving and heard Gerardo's name on the radio in a report about the new Investigating Commission. Stunned to hear a name he recognized, Roberto decided he had to go back to Gerardo's home to help him with his car and discuss the commission. Roberto is in a state of great excitement throughout the scene, repeatedly expressing his support for the commission. 

At first, Roberto expresses an agressive optimism about the commission, calling Gerardo "just what the country needs." Even if the commission is forbidden to release the names of the perpetrators they are investigating, Roberto is hopeful that these names might still eventually come to light, and, with enough public support, the amnesty the perpetrators have been promised can even be revoked. 

Later in the scene, however, Roberto appears to reverse his position. After Gerardo explains some of the challenges the commission is going to have, Roberto declares that his initial hopes might have been no more than a fantasy; perhaps, he concedes, there are some "things we'll never know." 

Roberto offers to help Gerardo fix his flat tire the next morning and to drive Gerardo back to his car with the patched tire. Given Gerardo's new prestige, Roberto explains that it would be an honor to do this small favor for him. Gerardo thanks him and invites Roberto to stay the night so that he doesn't have to drive home so late. When Gerardo promises that Paulina will prepare breakfast for them in the morning, Roberto happily accepts the offer; his wife and children are away and he is thrilled about the prospect of a home-cooked meal. 

Meanwhile, Paulina steals back to her bedroom. She feigns sleep when Gerardo comes in to explain that Roberto is staying over. 

Scene 3 takes place shortly after the end of Scene 2. Paulina enters the living room quietly, removes the gun and some stockings from the sidebar, and goes into the guest room where Roberto is sleeping. Some muffled noises are heard, and then, Paulina crosses back through the living room. She goes to her own bedroom and locks the door from the outside. She returns to the guest room and drags Roberto's unconscious body into the living room. She ties Roberto's form to a chair with the stockings, takes Roberto's car keys from his jacket, and exits. She drives off in Roberto's car. 

Act 1, Scenes 2 & 3 Analysis

The introduction of Roberto Miranda completes the play's trio of characters and sets the dramatic action in motion. As Dorfman will soon reveal, it is while spying on the conversation between Roberto and Gerardo that Paulina becomes convinced that Roberto is the doctor who tortured her while she was imprisoned. Paulina decides that Roberto has re-entered her life so that she might finally carry out justice against him for the crimes she believes he has committed against her. 

The excitement Roberto expresses about Gerardo's position on the commission demonstrates the importance of Gerardo's appointment and its significance in the trajectory of Gerardo's career and the country's future. Initially, Roberto seems quite optimistic about the commission's ability to help the country heal; then, just a few moments later he reverses his position, suggesting that optimism might be nothing more than a fantasy. Roberto's apparent ambivalence mirrors the uncertainty that much of the country is feeling about the commission. Like Gerardo, many are hopeful that justice will help to close a painful chapter in their nation's history, but like Paulina, they are skeptical of the commission's ability to heal these wounds. 

Furthermore, Roberto's wavering in this scene helps to cast doubt on his innocence. If he is truly guilty of attacking Paulina, Roberto may be feeling nervous about whether or not the Investigating Commission will expose his past. It is possible that Roberto has only returned to the Escobars' house for the opportunity to test how much Gerardo actually knows. Roberto's initial insistence that the commission should "make known" the names of the perpetrators of human rights violations is, perhaps, a means to get Gerardo to weigh in on whether or not the commission will actually do so. When Gerardo explains that the perpetrators will indeed remain anonymous, Roberto falls back on a more cynical mentality, which could be a tactic for teasing out any more details Gerardo might possess. Of course, the play never definitively declares Roberto's innocence or guilt, and so it is also possible to see this scene in a much more simpler light, with Roberto as an innocent citizen who is excited about the opportunity to discuss the commission with one of its recent appointees. 

Scene three, conducted without words and in darkness, demonstrates the confusion, violence, and terror that underlies so much of the tension in Death and the Maiden. The play alludes to so many horrors - not just Paulina's experiences, but all the terrible episodes of violence and torture in the country's dark past. The audience does not yet know the motivation behind Paulina's actions in this scene, which makes it mysterious and baffling - a moment of frightening uncertainty that helps to enhance the danger and immediacy of the plot.

Although the country has survived a dictatorship, its is impossible for its citizens to ever forget its violent past. Paulina, herself a victim of the country's previous regime, is perpetuating the cycle of abuse and cruelty. Whether or not this behavior is justified is one of the major questions surrounding Death and the Maiden