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Gender Roles in Death and the Maiden

Embedded throughout Death and the Maiden written by Ariel Dorfman, many themes circulate through the hands of the entirety of the play. One of the main themes is gender and gender roles. Paulina is put in a position where she is in her own home with her husband and the man that supposedly raped and tortured her. In order for Paulina to cope with who she believes to be her rapist in her home, she acts out and ties Roberto to a chair. This falls out of the classic gender role that women are supposed to obtain. Women, both victims and non-victims, are told to suppress their feelings and not let their emotions get the best of them; however, Paulina closes this gap between the gender roles by allowing her emotions to run free. Paulina’s husband also seems to be shocked by the unexpected makeshift trial that occurs in his house. He repeatedly asks and begs Paulina to rethink what she is doing and to take the rational route of thinking, that killing Roberto will do nothing because she is not even positive that he is the right man. Paulina rejects these reasonings with a sense of exhaustion and anger. She will no longer listen to the man who thinks it is his duty to interject his opinions on what a woman ought to do, “When are you going to stop telling me what I can and can’t do. ‘You can’t do this, you can do that, you can’t do this.’ I did it” (24). Paulina’s unpredictable actions take gender roles and completely flips them on their head. She takes an abused woman who was taught to suppress her feelings and emotions and unties her tightly bound leash. Paulina’s actions show what a woman who has been violated mentally and physically looks like when they finally release the image of what should be. Paulina set fire to the gender roles and acted in the face of trauma the only way she knew how: with wild aggression.

One thought on “Gender Roles in Death and the Maiden”

  1. You bring up a really interesting point here about how the play works with (and perhaps complicates?) the relationship between gender and an emotion/reason binary. I wonder what happens to that binary when we take into account the “wild aggression” that was enacted on Paulina’s body!


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