Self-Reflection in Death and the Maiden

The play, “Death and the Maiden” by Ariel Dorfman is a play that displays a lack of justice for the assault of the main character Paulina. Throughout the play, the audience sees her response to Roberto, and just how angry and vengeful she is towards him. The audience watching this conflict occur and unfold, can almost feel like the audience is a jury. We observe the situation at hand and form our own opinions and thoughts on it and decide what it is that we believe. At the very end of Act III before Paulina is supposedly about to shoot Roberto, there is a large mirror that descends from the ceiling and down in front of the audience in the stage directions. I think this is an interesting addition by Dorfman to this play, and really causes the audience and the readers of the play to think. 

The use of the mirror at the end of the play, and the use of the spotlights flashing over random members of the audience before the epilogue I think is a powerful moment. The mirror represents self-reflection and causes the audience to think and literally forces them to look at themselves and think about their complacency to what has happened, as well as whether or not justice is being served. I think the complacency speaks to both what has happened to Paulina and whether or not we believe her and also to the fate of Roberto. The mirror falls right before what we would assume is when she shoots him, and the audience doesn’t get to see it. The mirror I think probably raises questions like how do they feel about what’s happening ? Were they accepting of and okay with Roberto being shot? Do they feel satisfied witnessing what has happened without knowing the outcome? This makes me think about the Me Too movement today, and the women who come forward with their stories and testimonies of the sexaul abuse they have faced, and the lack of belief people who heard their stories had in it and them. The use of mirrors in literature has always been symbolic of reflection and seeing oneself for what they truly are and what they truly think, which is no different in this play.

One thought on “Self-Reflection in Death and the Maiden”

  1. Great observations about the mirror scene in here, and the interplay Dorfman sets up between the on-stage audience and the real-life audience and the work the latter is being asked to do in this closing scene. For me, this also raises some interesting questions about what the implications of Paulina, Roberto, and Gerardo’s situation might be for those of us who have less direct involvement in the historical events at issue in the play. What does it mean to think about how we are all implicated in something like that – if not directly or legally, then politically and morally?

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