What is the importance of gestures in Death and the Maiden?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The importance of gestures and non-verbal communication cannot be understated in this play, and indeed in the vast majority of plays. This is seen from the very opening scene, where the arrival of a car makes Paulina react in a rather disturbing fashion. Note how the stage directions describe her gestures:

She hurriedly stands up, goes to the other room, loooks out the window, crouches, and as the headlights of the car sweep the living-room, she can be seen rolled into a foetus-like position.

As the play continues, however, the audience understands that Chile, the country where the play is set, is, in the words of Gerardo, still "not accustomed... to democracy." The memories of strange cars pulling up at houses in the night and men entering and taking people away with them are still very present. Given Paulina's own experience as a political prisoner, that is the focus of the play, it is no wonder that she responds in such a dramatic way to the arrival of a strange car late at night in the dark. Even before the audience is told more about Paulina and her background, her gestures present her as a very troubled individual who has clearly gone through some terrible experience in the past. Gestures therefore are used as another way of revealing character, and in particular later on in the play to develop the tangled web of relations between the three central characters.