Both the plot of Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden and Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist develop from a situation of injustice. It is these injustices that set the protaganists aims in both works; the Maniac’s goal of exposing the unethical actions of the Italian police and Paulina’s desire for an honest confession from her past torturer. Essentially, both of these characters strive to bring justice (while the definition of justice is subject either characters’ beliefs) to their opponents/oppressors. However, in the process of the delivery of justice, Paulina and the Maniac in a sense become their oppressors, in respect to their actions. To assume the role of their opponents, Paulina and the Maniac first take power, build fear in their enemy and experience corruption themselves. In the end, true justice is not achieved at all as a result of the failure of the slave morality Maniac and Paulina are confined to.
First and foremost, to “assume the roles of their oppressors” Maniac and Paulina take power (at a loss to their opponents). In An Accidental Death of an Anarchist, the Maniac uses trickery and his histrionic actions to outsmart the policemen. The Maniac first impersonates a visiting judge, to trick the police into respecting him. Knowing that the judge’s inquiry tied into the issue of police misconduct, the officer had to choice but to take the judge seriously and answer his questions. Moreover, Maniac also achieved power over the officers through his histrionic, or theatrical behaviour. For example, Maniac repeatedly threatens to commit suicide, though much to the officer’s worry: “Maniac: Inspector, let me stay, or I’ll throw myself out of the window. What floor are we on? The third? Yeah, that should do it. And when I’m down there on the pavement- dying basically- smashed and groaning- I’m not one to die easily, so I’ll do a fair amount of groaning- journalists will arrive and I’ll tell them- groan, groan, groan – how you threw me down here. Okay let’s do it!” (Fo, 10). The officers react nervously to the Maniac’s threat, trying to constrain him.
Successfully falling for Maniac’s theatrics, the officers lose their power to Maniac. In the case of Paulina, her rise to power may have been more violent that Maniacs, but her sense of power was more consolidated. She used aggression to capture and bind Roberto Miranda and used a traditional power symbol, a gun to subject her control over him. The effectiveness of the gun in consolidating Paulina’s power is exemplified in this extract: “”Gerardo: While you point it [the gun] at me, there is no possible dialogue.
Paulina: On the contrary, as soon as I stop pointing it at you, all dialogue will automatically terminate. If I put it down you’ll use your strength to win the argument.” (Dorfman, 16). Like Maniac, she began in a disadvantaged position (she was weaker than the men in the house) but her use of the gun allowed her to overcome this weakness and pursue her interrogation agenda. Maniac’s use of trickery, wit and theatrics is similar to Paulina’s use of the gun as it is in many ways, their only advantage over their enemy and without them they would return to their previous, weak and powerless status.
Moreover, in their search for justice, the protagonists build fear in their opponents, just as their oppressors had done previously. The Italian police instilled fear in opposition groups by infiltrating them with secret officers as well as through the unexplained deaths which were a regular occurrence to suspects at the police headquarters. In Death and the Maiden, Dr. Miranda’s entire torture operation was built around the idea of fear, specifically the victim’s fear of further pain. However, Paulina and Maniac use fear tactics also during their attempt to bring justice to their former oppressors.
Maniac attempts to instil fear in the police officers by reminding them that the potential results of his inquiry could be a national scandal that would disgrace the police: “Scandal is the fertilizer of social democracy … people can let of steam, get angry, shudder at the thought of it … and they get more and more angry, and then, BURP! A little liberatory burp to relieve their social indigestion.”(Fo, 202). Fearing a potential loss of position or forced resignation, the police officers try their best to cover up their misconduct, which leads to greater errors on behalf of the police (though much to the Maniac’s enjoyment). Paulina continues her aggression and threats of violence to build fear in Miranda- fear for his life. His fear keeps him compliant and forces him to do things he would not have done if her were in a position of liberty, namely provide the confession- an item necessary for Paulina’s desired justice.
Lastly, Paulina and the Maniac suffer from personal corruption, just as their oppressors had previously. However, it is first important to note that the Maniac, like other Italian anarchists were victims of the corruption of the Italian police at the time, namely unethical interrogations and covered-up deaths. Similiarly, Paulina was a victim of a corrupt dictatorship whose secret police (and doctors like Miranda) committed crimes against the country’s own people.
Though in their quest for justice, both Paulina and Maniac experience corruption. Paulina’s corruption is evident in her treatment of Miranda. She did not respect his rights as a suspects, subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment and not granting him the legal rights he deserves as a citizen of a democracy. This constitutes corruption, since these are the very values Paulina was fighting for under the dictatorship. Likewise, in An Accidental Death of an Anarchist Maniac’s corruption is in the form of deceit and impersonation- the same unethical techniques that the Italian police used in dealing with suspects. In his attempt to reveal the corruption of the police, the Maniac is employing the same corrupt means.
Therefore, true justice could not be served since Paulina and the Maniac used the same unjust means as their oppressors to bring about justice. However, justice to Paulina and Maniac is not necessarily the same as “true justice”. In their case, justice is more vindictive, a result of resentment, with the goal being revenge. The failure of this kind of justice can be explained through Nietzsche’s master-slave morality. The master is typically the one with power and displays characteristics such as egoism, pride, self-direction, a will to experiment, express anger directly as well as value hierarchy. In these works, the police and Dr. Miranda exhibit master morality.
However, the focus of these plays is on the slave, the resentful victim of the master, in this case Paulina and Maniac. Slave morality originates in the weak, it is a reaction to oppression, and it seeks to make the masters slaves- which explains the reversal of roles of Paulina and the Maniac and their oppressors. Though when the slave takes power, they do so with vindictiveness for the strong, with a jealousy to enslave them as some form of revenge. Paulina’s vindictiveness for the masters is demonstrated in this extract: “Out there you bastards may still give the orders, but in here, for now, I’m in command.” (Dorfman, 21). However, Nietzsche notes that the slave’s attempt to bring justice to the masters by taking power always fails because their motives are based on a desire for revenge.
Based on this, Paulina’s supposed achievement of justice for her oppressor was a failure, or at least not true justice for the reasons of employing the same unethical means as her oppressor to force out a confession and basing her quest for justice on a revengeful and vindictive attitude she held towards Miranda. She might have begun her stage of self-healing, but she did so without bringing true justice to her oppressor. In the case of Maniac, he himself knew that a public police scandal would never change anything and never saw a change in the actions of the police thanks to his “accidental” death. Clearly the desired justice was never served in his case either, and for the same reasons that were behind the failure of Paulina’s attempt at justice. In many respects, these results most likely face all victims-turned masters as they are often consumed by revenge or just end up repeating the same actions of their oppressors, thus continuing the cycle of injustice.