When reading Death and the Maiden, one of the lines that struck me the most was when Paulina said,
“And why does it always have to be the people like me who have to sacrifice, why are we always the ones who have to make concessions when something has to be conceded, why always me who has to bite her tongue, why? Well, not this time. This time I am going to think about myself, about what I need. If only to do justice in one case, just one case. What do we lose? What do we lose by killing one of them? What do we lose? What do we lose?”
This, to me, was especially effective when one considers the setting of the play itself. The Investigating Commission, which I learned was based off of the Rettig Commission in real life, was a bandaid placed on a wound that badly needed surgery. In order to record the acts of cruelty committed by Pinochet’s regime, the Commission was only given 9 months’ time; this lack of time, of course, is what led to the Commission only looking into cases that ended in death. As we see with Paulina, this resulted in huge amounts of Chileans being deprived of the very human desire for justice.
For Paulina, this meant that she would take acquiring retribution into her own hands. Throughout the play, she repeatedly states how she is going to “put him on trial.” Her violent and somewhat haphazard way of doing this was, at times, alarming to me as a reader. From my perspective, this showed the importance of codifying and regulating the legal system. When individuals are denied their justice, they take the situation into their own hands, and thus the “cycle of violence” is continued. Although Paulina will acquire retribution, killing Roberto will create yet another spiderweb of suffering and revenge.
Paulina’s desire for justice was so strong that it went beyond reason; we see this demonstrated in her interactions with Gerardo, who attempts to apply logic and reasoning in an attempt for Paulina to act more rationally. Paulina’s actions demonstrate the importance of providing closure for victims. Due to the lack of resolution in her situation, Paulina is stuck reliving and revisiting her traumatic past and cannot move on; when one considers the weight of what she experienced, her seemingly irrational actions against Roberto make sense. Once again, Gerardo juxtaposes Paulina in regards to this; he tells her that she must move on and even goes so far as to say, “You’re still a prisoner, you stayed there behind with them, locked in that basement. For fifteen years you’ve done nothing with your life.” What Gerardo fails to understand is that Paulina cannot simply move on from the trauma she has experienced. As a “prisoner,” she is held there against her free will and the only key that can unlock her shackles is seeing her torturers brought to justice. From this perspective, it becomes evident that having a reliable legal system is paramount for both the victims and those who committed atrocities.