Death and the Maiden

Death and the Maiden Summary and Analysis of Act 2, Scene 1


Hours later, Roberto is still tied up and gagged, and Paulina speaks to him. She reveals that she saved Gerardo fifteen years ago by never naming him to her torturers; she muses that if she had, he never would be in a position to be named to the Investigating Commission. Instead, he'd likely be dead, and she'd be testifying in front of the commission on his behalf. 

She begins to explain what happened on the night she was freed, how she didn't return to her parents (who were pro-military and with whom she'd broken ties), but came running to Gerardo instead. Before she can continue with her story, however, Gerardo returns from fetching his car and insists on speaking to Paulina.

Gerardo demands that Paulina allow Roberto the opportunity to speak. She agrees, removes Roberto's gag, and pulls out a tape recorder to record him. A hoarse Roberto demands water, which Gerardo fetches. After he drinks, Roberto vehemently insists that he has never seen Paulina before in his life. He condemns Gerardo for his participation in Paulina's scheme - Paulina, he explains, is obviously insane, but Gerardo, as a defender of human rights, also bears great responsibility for Roberto's captivity by failing to free him.

Paulina, incensed, brandishes her gun at Roberto and prohibits him from threatening herself or Gerardo any further. Roberto tells her that he has to use the bathroom, and Paulina insists on taking him herself, which she does after untying his legs, her gun pressed to his back.

When they return, Paulina re-ties Roberto to the chair. Gerardo then insists on speaking to Paulina in private and leads her to the terrace. Gerardo attempts to persuade Paulina to free Roberto. He tells her that if she kills Roberto, she will have to kill him as well. Paulina accuses Gerardo of being unable to discuss her abduction - he cannot even speak about the terrors she had to endure. Paulina demands that her husband admit that she was tortured and raped, which he does, with difficulty. She reminds him that after she was released, he promised her that one day, they would put her torturers on trial. However, this can never happen in an official capacity because Gerardo's commission has only been tasked with investigating crimes ending in death or the presumption of death. 

Gerardo, is furious at Paulina for jeopardizing his position on the Investigating Commission by kidnapping Roberto, but Paulina insists that no one will ever find out. She has been silent on the subject of her torture for fifteen years and now, with her presumed captor held hostage, she intends to speak.

Paulina returns to the living room to discover that while she and Gerardo have been talking, Roberto has almost managed to free himself from his bonds. She ties him back up quickly, touching him gently and whispering some of the threats that he supposedly whispered to her when she was his captive. She returns to Gerardo, and asks him if she were to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Roberto was guilty, Gerardo would still want her to let him go. He insists that he would; to Gerardo, citizens taking justice into their own hands undermines the delicate democracy that the new president is trying to establish. 

Paulina offers a compromise. She admits that when she initially heard Roberto's voice, her first instinct was to torture him the way she was tortured fifteen years before. However, she now realizes that a physical punishment will not be satisfying enough for her. Instead, she wants Roberto to formally confess to his crimes and if he does, she will let him go. Paulina encourages Gerardo to convince Roberto to confess - it is the only way she will free him. 


Act 2 begins with Paulina once again talking to a gagged Roberto. As in Act 1, she is waiting for Gerardo's arrival to begin Roberto's trial - just as the play is unable to progress without all three of its characters, so is Roberto's trial unable to progress without all three of its participants: the accused (Roberto), the accuser (Paulina) and Gerardo, who will play something of a dual role, both as Roberto's counsel and the trial's jury. 

When Gerardo does return, Roberto finally gets to speak because Paulina agrees to remove his gag. Roberto's immediate response is to insist that he is innocent and to appeal to Gerardo for his freedom - he completely bypasses reasoning with Paulina, whom he believes to be beyond reason. This action emphasizes Paulina's powerlessness within the world of the play - from the moment she was kidnapped she was stripped of her agency, and in the fifteen years since she was been voiceless to demand justice or to accuse her torturer. Now, even after her demonstration of vigilante justice, she must still struggle to be heard or acknowledged. 

Privately, Gerardo begs Paulina to see reason, but she stands strong. She has been silent for over a decade, and since Gerardo's Investigating Commission will only be giving voice to the dead (by only investigating crimes that ended in death or the presumption of death), she must find her own voice in order to get the justice - and inner peace - she is so desperate to achieve. One of the first demands of this new "vocal" Paulina is to get Gerardo to speak out loud about the repeated sexual assault and physical torture his wife endured. Gerardo's difficultly in admitting this represents the country's discomfort in confronting its own horrific history, and Paulina's insistence that he do so speaks to a central conflict not only in their relationship, but also in the new country itself. How can any country that has such a violent past possibly honor the victims of these horrors while still protecting the perpetrators of the violence?

Gerardo is fixated on the effect that Paulina's actions will have on his career, especially his position on the Investigating Commission. He struggles to acknowledge the past because he is so focused on the future; he is considering his own personal potential as well as the growth of the young democracy. Paulina, meanwhile, represents an ugly past which refuses to be ignored; she has literally kidnapped a man because of her obsession with the past, and in doing so has forced Gerardo to be as mired in it as she is. 

For Gerardo, one individual's personal pursuit of justice threatens the entire country's success in establishing democracy. Meanwhile, for Paulina, it is impossible to free herself from the prison of her past without pursuing the justice that this new democracy will not pursue for her. 

Paulina finally figures out what she really wants, and it isn't violence. For her, true justice would be for Roberto to confess to the crimes she's accusing him of. Only after hearing him admit this truth will she be able to find peace. This idea of truth, and of a "true confession," will become a major fixation for Paulina throughout the rest of the play.