The Themes Of Justice & Injustice in The Play "Death & The Maiden" By Ariel Dorfman

Categories: DeathJustice

In the play Death and The Maiden, written by Ariel Dorfman presents a story that has two sides. On one side, horrifying crimes that have offended people’s human rights were pledged and one victim, in particular, Paulina, is still suffering because of her past. She is seeking justice for herself and wants the ‘’real real truth’’ to be told. On the other side, the Commission is investigating the ‘’official truth’’ of these crimes but only the ones that have ended in death.

This situation causes a dilemma between the characters because while Paulina is searching for justice, she is held back by the truth her lawyer husband, Gerardo and the Commission have set forth.

The victimized women want the torture that she had endured to be brought to light and investigated properly resulting in punishment for her abusers. Infuriated by the fact that only those who no longer can speak are the cases that the Commission is prioritizing first is unacceptable to the abused women.

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In Paulina’s mind, the truth will be recognized and brought to the surface no matter what it takes. She has had to live with the pain of those memories long enough and earns the right to see her abusers behind bars. However, Paulina acts dishonestly in return for some personal gain by doing something similar to what had been done to her ; she holds Dr. Miranda hostage while she searches for justice and retribution.

We get a glimpse into Paulina and Gerardo’s future in the final scene of the play.

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It is difficult to understand how the lawyer’s wife is dealing with the aftereffects of the events from a few months before. She does not speak in the final scene. In spite of the fact that she doesn't show signs of being disturbed when "Death and the Maiden" plays (which is a bettering from her incapacity to listen to the melody before), the doctor’s appearance in the final scene is a crystal clear sign which indicates that he is, figuratively or literally, still haunting her.

In an earlier scene in the play, when Gerardo was begging his wife to let Roberto go because he knew Paulina’s actions were outrageous, he believed that the doctor should have a chance to defend himself ‘’[...] so even if this man committed genocide on a daily basis, he has the right to defend himself.’’, a distraught and agitated Paulina brusquely asked him to know what she was expected to do if she freed her kidnapper and then later ran into him at some public event ‘’And we see him at the Tavelli, and we smile at him’’ In which Gerardo answered that she was essentially to do nothing, to ignore him and forget ‘’No need to smile at him but basically yes, that is what we have to do, And start to live, yes’’. If Roberto's presence in this scene is, in fact, real, then the very situation that Paulina feared about happening is coming to reality.

Although Dorfman does not entirely divulge how Paulina responds to Roberto's presence, it puts forward the agony and discomfort that Paulina may feel upon seeing him again. If the doctor’s presence is imaginary in the scene, then Dorfman is demonstrating just how much Paulina's past still haunts her. Because the author does not particularize how Paulina behaves with Roberto’s presence near her, it is up to us, the audience to come up with a resolution about whether or not Paulina is over her past or if it is still controlling her. The scene ends with a note of unpredictability, Roberto and Paulina preserve uneasiness eye contact, ‘’their eyes interlock for a moment’’.

One of the main themes in Death and the Maiden is the theme of justice and injustice; it portrays both ideal and practical concepts of justice. Gerardo and his wife apprehend the injustice that was employed by the previous military regime, but they disagreed with one another when it comes to the idea of how justice can be served in their present circumstances. It causes a dilemma between the couple. On the one hand, Gerardo believes in the effectiveness of the Commission which he has been chosen to work for; he believes that justice will be served by investigating the crimes faithfully and turning the findings over to the court.

On the other hand, Paulina is doubtful of the devotion of those same judges ‘’who never intervened to save one life in seventeen years of dictatorship’’. No matter what, Paulina does not possibly believe that justice can be served within the present circumstances that she is facing with the Commission’s rules, about only investigating the cases that have ended in death or its presumption, the Commission cannot oppress any criminals who have been proven guilty. Therefore, she takes the law into her own hands, all of a sudden she is ‘’unrecognizable’’(26) to Gerardo because the power has been reversed which is ironic since it is the first time she is taking actions into her own hands, her husband is not used to this. She attends to punish the doctor by making him feel the pain that she felt and treat him the way that she had been treated.

In conclusion, the fact that the victimized women feel that she has to take these actions proves to us how her country’s government failed to satisfy her needs. Nevertheless, even if Paulina should or can expect that kind of peace of mind from the government is one of the biggest dilemmas in this play. Ariel Dorfman makes his readers and viewers think whether or not the victim's actions for justice in her case is appropriate or not. Should she of had let Roberto go and listened to her husband since the beginning? In the final scene of the play, we can see that her actions did not in fact bring her justice but did bring her some sort of closure from the trauma she experienced in the past.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Themes Of Justice & Injustice in The Play "Death & The Maiden" By Ariel Dorfman. (2024, Feb 08). Retrieved from

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