Death and the Maiden

Death and the Maiden Quotes and Analysis

"I don't know how you do it, but you always manage to fix things up so that everything turns out right for you."

- Paulina, p. 6

Here, Paulina is explaining to Gerardo how she justifies taking the jack out of his car and giving it to her mother. She is not worried about his ability to recover from a flat tire, because in her opinion, he always manages to succeed no matter how bleak a situation seems to be. This quote hints at some of the resentment Paulina feels towards Gerardo for the uneven distribution of suffering in their relationship. Although both Paulina and Gerardo fought in the resistance against the former dictatorship, it was Paulina, not Gerardo, who had to endure torture and violence as a result. 

"You be reasonable. They never did anything to you."

- Paulina, p. 25

After Paulina kidnaps Roberto, Gerardo attempts to use reason and logic to convince her to let Roberto go. Paulina, however, is passionate that justice must be served; to her, rationality is not applicable given what she has suffered. She feels that the torture and pain she was forced to endure justifies all of her brazen choices, including putting Roberto on trial for the crimes she believes he has committed. Gerardo can keep spouting reason and logic, but to Paulina, such detestable human rights violations demand a kind of justice that transcends reason. 

“I haven’t opened my mouth to even whisper a breath of what I’m thinking, years living in terror of my own…but I’m not dead, I thought I was but I’m not and I can speak, damn it – so for God’s sake let me have my say.”

- Paulina, p 37

Roberto's arrival sparks a fire in Paulina. Although she was released from captivity by the secret police many years before, she has remained a prisoner of her trauma. She has been unable to pursue her interests, look towards the future, or really move past the experience at all. However, having one of her supposed torturers show up in her own home has awakened her desire for vengeance, and she finally moves to action. In this quote, she speaks to the "voice" that Roberto's arrival has helped her to find. She has been silent on the subject of her torture for so long, but she cannot be that way any longer. 

“You’re still a prisoner, you stayed there behind with them, locked in that basement. For fifteen years you’ve done nothing with your life. Not a thing. Look at you, just when we’ve got the chance to start over again and you begin to open all the wounds…”

- Gerardo, p. 38

Despite Paulina's outburst, Gerardo is not convinced that kidnapping Roberto is a positive step in her healing process. Instead, he maintains that revisiting the past and "opening old wounds" will keep her a prisoner. For Gerardo, the only way to move on is to stay focused on the future. Unlike his wife, he refuses to fixate on a painful past; for Paulina, though, there is no escape. Gerardo is terrified that Paulina's actions will compromise their - specifically, his - future, and to a certain extent, he resents her inability to look forward with him. 

"I'll leave you men to fix the world."

- Paulina, p. 46

Sexism is an important underlying theme in Death and the Maiden. As a woman, Paulina has only ever been a victim of government; unlike Gerardo or Roberto, she will never get to be an agent of any regime. Paulina is fully aware that the only way to get the kind of justice that will truly satisfy her is by taking matters into her own hands; within the structures of the society she lives in, her gender and position do not allow her access to the power that would enable her to change the world. 

"When crazy people have power, you've got to indulge them."

- Gerardo, p. 46

Here, Gerardo is trying to convince Roberto to go along with Paulina's demands and "confess" to the crimes of which he claims to be innocent.  Acknowledging that Paulina is "crazy" is part of Gerardo's strategy to gain Roberto's trust so that he will agree to make the confession. 

Gerardos tactics, however, also speak to the kind of appeasement that sustain dictatorships. Although in the play, it is Paulina who is the "crazy person" in power, for fifteen years prior a violent dictator oppressed this country. It is attitudes like Gerardo's that allows dictatorships to flourish because he is trying to placate the person in power and discouraging any kind of resistance. The irony is that Gerardo actually was part of the resistance against the former dictatorship; clearly, though, he is also capable of the kind of moral flexibility that helps to sustain such tyrannical autocrats. 

"She isn't the voice of civilization, you are."

- Roberto, p. 49

This quote also speaks to the sexism that pervades the play. Here, Roberto is asking Gerardo whether or not Gerardo truly believes he's guilty. It is important to Roberto that Gerardo believe in his innocence; although he has completely dismissed Paulina's opinion, Gerardo's perception of him is critical. Gerardo represents "the voice of civilization" because he is a man and he is a member of the Investigating Commission that will formally determine the innocence or guilt of many people on behalf of the government. For Roberto, Paulina is nobody - she holds no power in society and her feelings about his guilt are easily dismissible, but Gerardo's verdict is one he respects and thus covets. 

"People can die from an excessive dose of the truth."

Gerardo, p. 55

For Gerardo, the past and the truth are threatening. He firmly believes that protective lies are an important part of any relationship. He does not want to discuss the extent of his affair with Paulina; he is convinced that it will destroy them. Paulina, however, is adamant that for her to survive, she must unearth the truth. She has been suffocating underneath the weight of lies and denial, and now she wants everything in the open - the truth of Gerardo's affair, of Roberto's guilt, and of what happened to her. 

Later in the play, Gerardo seemingly reverses his position on "the truth" when he asks Paulina to recount exactly what happened to her.  Presumably, this reversal comes from Gerard's desire to free Roberto – he wants Paulina to recall all the details of her torture so he can pass them along to Roberto and Roberto can make a convincing “confession.” However, this action may also represent a change or growth in Gerardo. Although he spends most of the play up to this point vigorously silencing Paulina whenever she tries to rehash the past, he finally does agree to discuss his affair with her, and in listening to her testimony he is forced to revisit these painful events. Whether or not Gerardo has actually changed remains unclear – although we see Paulina and Gerardo out together in the final scene of the play, Dorfman does not offer any details about the continued success or failure of their marriage and instead, the audience must judge for themselves based on the Escobars' public image.  

"So someone did terrible things to you and now you’re doing something terrible to me and tomorrow somebody else is going to – on and on and on.” 

- Roberto, p. 65

One of the main questions Death and the Maiden asks is whether it is possible to stop a cycle of violence once it has been set in motion, and if so, how. Paulina's torture has prompted her to seek physical revenge against her torturer. As she holds the gun to his head, Roberto reminds her that he has children, suggesting that his children might be prompted to seek their own violent revenge if he is murdered. The cycle seems unending - Roberto, here, is begging Paulina to stop it. Because Dorfman deliberately does not reveal whether Paulina kills Roberto in this scene, the play ends without providing a satisfying answer to this crucial question. Instead, the audience must speculate for themselves if Paulina perpetuated or halted this particular cycle of violence. 

“And why does it always have to be people like me who have to sacrifice, why are we always the ones who have to make concessions when something has to be conceded, why always me to has to bite my tongue, why? This time I am going to think about myself, about what I need. If only to do justice in one case, just one. What do we lose? What do we lose by killing one of them? What do we lose? What do we lose?”

- Paulina, p. 66

Although the audience never finds out whether or not Paulina kills Roberto, Dorfman does give Paulina the last word in this scene. After Roberto begs her to spare his life, she counters with this line, in which she rejects the idea that it is her responsibility to spare Roberto. She resists the concept of sacrificing her personal satisfaction for the greater good (peace), instead insisting that she deserves to seek justice in this one instance. "What do we lose [if Roberto dies]?" she wonders. For Roberto and Gerardo, the loss will be greater than one man's life - their concern is that Roberto's death will perpetuate this endless cycle of violence. If Paulina to kills Roberto, it will be more than an isolated murder; it will be yet another link in a chain of pain and vengeance that has been going on for decades.