Death and the Maiden

by Ariel Dorfman

Start Free Trial

What forms of power are conveyed in "Death and the Maiden"? How might Dorfman's message apply elsewhere?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Death and the Maiden examines the unstable power dynamics that are created during the shift from one political agenda and infrastructure to another. 

While Dorfman's play does not name its geographic setting, it is clearly influenced by Dorfman's experience as an exile from Chile after the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, who assumed the role of a militaristic dictator of the country. The eventual replacement of Pinochet with a democratic government and the introduction of the Rettig Commission (which investigated crimes committed under Pinochet, but did not issue judgment or publicly name those who committed such crimes) failed to deal justly with the trauma of those who suffered through human rights violations under Pinochet's reign. This is because while those in support of the newly elected President Patricio Aylwin wanted to see those who committed atrocities under Pinochet held accountable, great political pressure still existed to deal softly with these perpetrators--many who were still firmly planted in high positions within the government and society.

Thus, the varying forms of power that are addressed within Dorfman's play emerged: the power of a victim in search of personal rather than public justice (Paulina), the power of criminals who have enacted injustice and managed to get away with it (Paulina's "possible" rapist, Roberto Miranda), and those who value the idealogical concept of "peace" over the aforementioned kind of reparative justice (Paulina's husband Gerardo).

As we watch Paulina seek to exact her vigilante justice on Miranda throughout the play while dealing with the denial and dissent of Gerardo, it is clear that these three power dynamics are unable to wholly coincide within the shifting landscape of the "new" country. These rivaling powers--which seem to leave no room for compromise--result in a horrific cycle of violence which continues the perpetration of crime and the violation of human life. 

Ultimately, it is clear that the themes that Dorfman is exploring here regarding unspeakable violence, forgiveness, and the conflict between past, present, and future can be applied to our modern world. Even today, we are faced with unresolved atrocities which seem to have left a wound that cannot be closed for many people; one example might be the Turkish government's refusal--even a century later--to acknowledge the genocide of 1.5 million Armenian people that it perpetrated beginning in 1915. In 2017, countless North Koreans are facing unfathomable human rights violations in prison camps under the regime of Kim Jung-Un. Contextually speaking, we are very much still immersed in a time and place in which victims go unrepresented by their governments out of sheer political maneuvering. The United States, for example, has failed to acknowledge the Armenian genocide due to a fear of losing the Republic of Turkey as a key regional ally in the conflict in the Middle East. The US has also maintained a "hands off" approach with North Korea as a matter of political diplomacy, fear of nuclear repercussions, etc. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial