Throughout “Death and the Maiden”, Paulina’s goal and motivation for her actions is to attain some form of closure from the past and the heinous acts that have been done to her. She cannot simply forget something so traumatic that altered the course of her life, but she hopes that by getting a confession from Roberto for allegedly raping her she may be able to find peace in her mind through justice or simply just knowing the truth (or validation in the truth she believes).
The ambiguous ending of the play leaves the reader wondering whether or not Paulina killed Roberto or allowed him to live. Act II Scene III takes place months later, and Paulina and Gerardo seemingly return to normal civilian life from the trial Paulina subjected them to earlier by attending a concert. However, Roberto appears to be present “under a light which has a faint phantasmagoric moonlight quality. He could be real or he could be an illusion in Paulina’s head,” (Dorfman 67). Paulina turns and sees this Roberto, but the reader does not know if he is alive, meaning Paulina did not take revenge, or if he is a ghost in Paulina’s mind. In either possibility, it is evident that Paulina does not find the closure she sought earlier in the play. In the instance in which Roberto is alive, he still caries on in everyday life despite the actions Paulina accused him of, much like those who cannot be prosecuted by Gerardo’s commission for their role in their country’s past atrocities. Paulina knowing and seeing first hand that justice still has not been achieved for what was done to her eliminates the possibly of closure for her, a victim, unless she found forgiveness within herself, but that idea is not supported through her character traits in the play or hinted at in the final scene. If Roberto appears as a figment of Paulina’s imagination, it further drives the idea that she may never be able to find closure for what was done to her. While the person she believes abused her is no longer alive, his presence still exists in her mind, as do the memories of her torture. It is also possible that doubts of Roberto’s guilt linger on her conscious, as she did acknowledge that, “If he’s innocent? Then he’s really screwed,” (Dorfman 42). Allowing the presence of doubt in her mind does nothing to alleviate Paulina and even more so makes it impossible for her to find closure.
In Paulina’s trial of Roberto, she never entertains the thought that she may never gain closure through her actions. It is only conveyed in the aftermath of the trial she subjects Roberto to that the actions done to her and her actions unto Roberto may always stay in her mind as long as she lives. This sad reality for a victim of heinous crimes elucidates the question, “Is there anything for justice to do in the case of such irreparable harm done to a victim?”