Death and the Maiden

Death and the Maiden Summary and Analysis of Act 3, Scene 2


The play's final scene takes place months later. Paulina and Gerardo are attending a concert. Once again, the play departs slightly from the hyper-realism of the earlier scenes by suggesting that Paulina and Gerardo watch this concert from seats in the actual audience. As the music ends, they stand, and Paulina leaves to buy candy from a vendor while Gerardo talks to audience members as though they were his fellow citizens. 

Gerardo is clearly a figure of some esteem at this point. He describes the success of the Investigating Commission in highly positive terms, emphasizing the generosity of the victims and of those testifying. He explains how relieved he is that participants are acting without "seeking a personal vendetta." He recalls the story of a woman who was so grateful to be offered a chair before her testimony that she cried, telling the judge that it was the first time in fourteen years that anyone had offered her a seat. 

Meanwhile, as Paulina finishes buying her candy, a spotlight descends and catches Roberto. The stage directions specifically mention that "he could be real or he could be an illusion in Paulina's head." Roberto stares at Paulina, but she ignores him and returns to Gerardo. The two of them sit down to watch the rest of the concert.

The music begins again and Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" plays. Paulina doesn't react at first, but then she slowly turns to see Roberto, who has not taken his eyes off her. They stare at each other as the lights go down. 


The play's final scene offers a glimpse into Paulina and Gerardo's future after the stunning events at their beach house. Several months later, Gerardo's career is clearly going well, and the Investigating Commission is, at least in his mind, a success. 

The play does not definitively prove that Gerardo is speaking the truth, of course. There is a chance that he is lying and that the commission has faced many challenges, but his specific mention of the victims acting "without a personal vendetta" is in stark contrast to Paulina's actions, which were entirely motivated by her personal experiences. If Gerardo views her behavior as the failure of democracy, then he is demonstrating that the divergent attitudes of the witnesses for the Investigating Commission are helping to ensure that democracy will succeed. 

It is harder to interpret how Paulina is coping with the aftermath of the events from a few months before. She does not speak in this final scene. Although she doesn't show signs of being disturbed when "Death and the Maiden" plays (which is a clear improvement from her inability to listen to the piece before), Roberto's appearance is a clear indicator that he is, literally or figuratively, still haunting her. 

In an earlier scene, when Gerardo was begging Paulina to let Roberto go, a distraught Paulina demanded to know what she was supposed to do if she freed Roberto and then later ran into him at some public event. Gerardo answered that she was essentially to do nothing - to ignore him. If we are to believe that Roberto's presence in this scene is real, then the very situation that Paulina feared is coming to pass. Although the Dorfman doesn't completely reveal how Paulina reacts to Roberto's presence, it suggests the discomfort and trauma Paulina may feel upon seeing him again. 

If Roberto's presence in the scene is imaginary, then the scene is proving just how much Paulina's past still haunts her. Because Dorfman does not specify how Paulina reacts to Roberto (besides staring at him), it is up to the audience to decide whether or not Paulina is now owning her past or whether it is still dominating her. Instead, the scene ends with a note of uncertainty - Paulina and Roberto maintain discomforting eye contact. 

Dorfman's refusal to provide any sort of clear opinion on whether Paulina's actions were justified or if she even went through with killing Roberto leaves the responsibility on the audience to make this determination. The play therefore leaves the audience to ponder the major questions it poses - about the viability of a democratic justice system after such tremendous violence, the rights of an individual to pursue justice on his or her own terms, and whether or not such an extreme cycle of violence can ever be halted.