Death and the Maiden

Death and the Maiden Imagery


Dorfman uses moonlight as a recurring image throughout the play. It illuminates Roberto when Paulina first knocks him unconscious and gags him; later, it illuminates the tape recorder while Roberto's voice recounts his confession. In the play's final scene, Roberto appears to Paulina in a pool of light that has a "moonlight quality," extending the association between moonlight and Roberto's character. It serves as a visual reminder of Paulina's past and Roberto's presumed role in it. The moonlight also highlights certain painful truths between Paulina and Roberto, whether that be Paulina's violence against Roberto, Roberto's violence against her, or Roberto's haunting presence in Paulina's life. 

The tape recorder

The tape recorder is another image that appears throughout the play. Paulina employs it to record and play both her testimony and Roberto's confession - an essential element in her "trial," it becomes a fourth character in the play; a silent, visible witness to record the characters' official testimonies. Initially Roberto is heavily resistant to the idea of recording a confession - he doesn't want a permanent record of his words. In this way, the tape recorder creates tangible evidence that could hold up in a real court of law. Meanwhile, Paulina's decision to record her own testimony represents her desire to permanently push her story "out in the open" - which Gerardo insists is the only way she'll be able to move on. 

Roberto tied to the chair

Violence bubbles underneath the surface of every moment in Death and the Maiden even though the characters themselves barely attack each other physically. Instead, Paulina, Gerardo, and Roberto make reference to, imply, or threaten each other with violence 

The image of Roberto tied to the chair, which persists throughout most of the play, is a visual reminder of Paulina's kidnapping as well as the abduction, torture, and violence committed against the thousands of others who suffered during the previous regime. As Paulina begins to hint at the details of her torture, the image of Roberto tied to the chair becomes weighted with these greater implications. Throughout the play, Paulina occasionally teases the tied Roberto, whispering to him some of the taunts that he allegedly whispered to her while he held her captive, which further elucidates the details of what happened to her without actually showing it. 

Paulina in hiding

Paulina hides throughout Scenes 1 and 2, both of which take place at night. At first, she is fearful when she sees an unfamiliar car pulling up to her house and "stands behind the curtains" (3). She only comes out once Gerardo appears and she knows she is safe. Later, when Roberto returns to the Escobars' home, Paulina "edges out onto the terrace from where she will be able to hear the men but not see or be seen by them" (13). By keeping herself hidden, Paulina herself becomes a visual embodiment of her past. She can not fully return to a life of light or optimism until she fully explores the pain she has been carrying around, which is like a shadow hanging over her.