Conflicting views on reconciliation:Paulina's vengeance vs Gerardo's faith in the legal system
Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden (Maiden) encapsulates the struggles of the stark empowerment of a post-dictatorial nation. The setting of the play is broad and applicable to “any country that has given itself a democratic government just after a long period of dictatorship”(Cast of Characters). In the story, Paulina represents the victims of totalitarian rule, Roberto the alleged violator and Gerardo the government’s legal system. Dorfman reveals intricacies within different ideas of justice, through the portrayal of different parties’ quests for justice and reconciliation in a post-dictatorial nation. Gerardo demonstrates while the legal system could manage to offer sensible solutions to address the worst cases, those solutions often fail to address the people’s emotional suffering, which is a flaw within the system of law. Through parallels between Paulina and the victims of Pinochet’s rule, Maiden helps one empathize with the victims, and gives reason to the victims’ seemingly extreme demands for retribution.
We learn early in Act1Scene1 that Gerardo, the husband of Paulina and a member of the Commission, has a strong belief in the right to fair trial and is against Paulina’s vengeance, Gerardo embodies the logical but impersonal mindset of a lawyer, and shows how the legal system’s neglect of human emotions is problematic. The main conflict within the play is centered on whether Roberto is guilty of raping and torturing Paulina, and her search for retribution. Arguing against Paulina who insists on extrajudicial trial in her home, Gerardo stated “even if [a] man committed genocide on a daily basis, he has the right to defend himself” (31), which shows his belief in legal procedures. Unlike him, Paulina only wants a confession from Roberto and to punish him, “I want him to confess. I want him to sit in front of that cassette recorder and tell me what he did” (41) and “Tell him if he doesn’t confess I’ll kill him” (42).By any logical standards, Paulina is irrational because she discounts the possibility that Roberto could be innocent, and her accusations were as Roberto describes “merely fantasies of a diseased mind” (44). However, Dorfman portrays Paulina as the ultimate victim from the inability of the commission, and invites audience sympathy for her throughout the play to inspire audiences to reevaluate history, which leads one to take her view into account. Gerardo on the other hand is sometimes characterized negatively with harshness and coldness, established by his patronizing tone in Act 1 and giving only compliments towards Paulina’s domestic abilities.
When Paulina asks for Gerardo to investigate case, Gerardo promised to do “Everything. Everything we can.”(10), to the point of providing stress through repetition. But that was shown to be a false promise because of his inaction throughout the play. Reading the play in light of Chile’s history, Gerardo’s inefficiency in dealing with the case mirrors the inability of the commission to handle the sheer amount of victims from Pinochet's dictatorship. Hence the commission only deals with deaths and focuses on "the most serious cases"(9) as described by Paulina. She also reprimands "The same judges who never intervened to save one life in seventeen years of dictatorship"(10), the metaphorical loss of life refers to those who were raped, tortured and were disregarded because of the huge mass of cases. Paulina’s damaged life is similar to many as she recounts her inability to listen to music and attend medical school because of her misfortune in Act1Scene4 and kidnaps Roberto for an extrajudicial trial to seek retribution. All evidence directs to the legal system which neglects human emotions, limited by a complicit government and only directs to a logical and procedural evaluation. In a country which is moving forward and away from its dark past, the logical…