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Thoughts about “12 Angry Men”

In the film 12 Angry Men, you follow 12 jurors as they decide the fate of an 18-year-old accused of murdering his father. What starts as a showing of raucous support for the boy’s obvious guilt ultimately leads to a unanimous vote for his possible innocence at the end of the film. This decision was brought about due to the inclusion of doubt. One juror expressed his doubt with some of the evidence brought forward during the multi-day trial. He did not express any ideas against the possibility of this evidence being correct only that it was possible it could be incorrect. This was a perspective that was not immediately shared by his peers at the start of the film. They had disregarded the importance of doubt in the trial process.

The jurors brought with them into that room outside views, feelings, prejudices and obligations that were influencing their thinking process. There was no room for doubt in their minds. Doubt requires the juror to think through what they observed, heard and felt during the trial. Doubt is needed to make the trial process fair. It allows one side to carry its weight against the other and it allows decisions to be validated due to the burden of proof not being reached. In Death and the Maiden there was no room for doubt. In another, albeit unorthodox, life or death trial, Paulina has already made up her mind as to what she is going to do to Roberto. She allows no room to doubt the possibility of her being wrong. Due mainly to her own “testimony” and eyewitness account as the victim in the trial. All the doubt seems to be in the mind of Gerardo, however he possesses no real power to affect the fate of Roberto. This is different from 12 Angry Men. The jury gives time to each juror to work through the baggage they brought in with them until they ultimately find facts/evidence they can possibly refute.

This outside baggage that is brought in with the jury varies. One juror wanted to make it on-time to a baseball game. Another juror wanted to end the decision quickly based mainly on his views regarding the boy’s race. This raises the question as to whether a jury has nothing to gain or lose from the verdict in a trial. In the Furies, the jury may have to face the wrath of godly forces/ a higher authority. In Death and the Maiden, Paulina, who acts as the judge, jury and executioner, faces the possibility of never receiving closure on an event that affected her and many from her country. The results of a trial could have personal stakes for the jury regardless of the ethical nature of that claim. It could also have wide-ranging effects for many outside parties as well. One of the jurors in 12 Angry Men seemed to have personal claim regarding the decision as the film went on. He was adamant that the boy was guilty regardless of the evidence brought up for his possible innocence, some even proven by his own actions. The reason he felt strongly about this decision regarding the boy stemmed from his own personal problems. We learned early on how this juror had a falling out with his son. It came across in the film as though he was trying to find some form of catharsis by punishing this boy in the place of the son that he felt had spurned him. This juror carried a goal with him that could jeopardized someone’s life. This situation could happen all the time in trials and we simply don’t know or don’t consider/care if they do. To a degree this even happens in Death and the Maiden. Paulina, despite how valid her anger and pain is, may have decided to end the life of an innocent man. Her motive for punishing Roberto, not his guilt is the aspect of importance here. She wanted revenge against the man who raped her. She seemingly willing to come to a conclusion about Roberto before the ploy with the testimony. This can even be seen to an extent in the Furies. The Furies seek to not have their godly position belittled and womanhood be besmirched.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The questions it raised regarding the spectacle nature of a trial and the responsibility of the jury are fascinating to consider. It also left me with a sense of emptiness/uneasiness over the idea of never really knowing the truth in a trial. Doubt is always present regardless of the decision that is made. It has left me with a new perspective on trials and the jury process altogether.

The Development of the Idea of Testimony

For my double blog post, I watched the classic film 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda. The movie is a simple one, but not everybody has a taste for classic cinema, so to sum up, it takes place almost entirely in a single small room with 12 men who are jurors in a case. The trial is over and they now have to decide what to do with the defendant, a boy accused of stabbing his father to death. 11 Men initially are completely convinced of his guilt, and one man refuses to say that he is guilty. Because the jury’s decision must be unanimous, a debate ensues and over time the jurors are slowly, one by one, convinced that the boy cannot be declared guilty. The film ends with the unanimous decision of Not Guilty.

I love the movie and think it’s fantastically acted and written, but it’s also deeply tied to the themes we have been discussing in this class. First off, it seems to bear most resemblance among the texts we’ve talked about, with Aeschylus’ The Furies. Both center around murder trials and contain a jury, testimonies, a judge, and other elements we associate with a trial. 

However, our information of the actual trial comes from the reminiscences of the jurors. We don’t actually see it ourselves. We only see their debate. The most debated about subject that we get, by far, is that of the testimonies given. Testimony is something we have talked about a lot in this class, and 12 Angry Men deals with it in interesting ways. 

We see testimonies given in The Furies, and those testimonies are never doubted or even really examined. Everything that everyone says is the truth and we are never given reason to believe otherwise. We dealt again with the issue of testimony in Death and The Maiden, where testimonies are now in doubt because people’s intentions are now severely in doubt. because of severe emotional stress and having a vested interest in one outcome of the case or another, we can never really be sure wether to believe the two testimonies given about the torture and rape that is being discussed. The witnesses may be lying to get vengeance, or to protect their own hide. We see testimony again crop up as a subject in all of our studies about South Africa and the TRC. In exchange for testimony of the truth of past events, amnesty is granted to those who perpetrated terrible crimes, but we see in Country of My Skull that testimonies often conflict even among people who participated in the exact same event. Testimony is unreliable because people have different perceptions and memory itself is often unreliable. 

12 Angry Men takes this a step further. Testimony again is viewed as being unreliable, but for various reasons. The testimony of the boy, saying that he was at the movies when the murder occurred, is instantly doubted for the same reason testimony was doubted in Death and the Maiden, He could potentially be lying simply to save his own skin. The testimony of the woman who ‘witnessed’ the murder from her apartment across the way is in doubt for the same reason testimony was doubted in one of the events of Country of My Skull, the reliability of her perception and memory was in doubt. 

The man who lived on the floor below the murder has his testimony doubted for an entirely new reason all together. When it becomes apparent from the facts that it is EXTREMELY improbable that the man could possibly have heard or seen what he claims to have heard or seen, the question arises of why? Why is this false testimony being given? It is speculated that the man simply is taking his chance to be important. He has no vested interest in this case, one way or another. He stands to gain or lose nothing by either conviction or acquittal. It would seem that this is the ideal situation from which to expect truthful and unbiased testimony. But 12 Angry Men points out to us that even in such a case, testimony is unreliable. 12 Angry Men is a film that repeatedly makes the point that you simply cannot trust testimony as unchallengeable.

This is is a very troubling and disturbing thing when testimony is such a foundational part of our legal system, and even seems to have its roots as far back as the Greeks and Aeschylus. In that text, testimony was never in question. but the class has slowly built on this idea of testimony as evidence until now, in 12 Angry Men, we get a very similar situation played back to us with a lot more nuance. Logical deduction and reasoning take the place of testimony as the way truth is determined. The testimonies are shown to be unreliable by a process of debate and logical conclusion such as “The old man could not possibly have heard the murder because there was a train passing by that would have covered up the sound.” or “The woman could not have seen the murder because it was dark and she was not wearing her glasses.” 

The unreliability of testimony is a central theme in this movie and I think it is interesting how the idea has developed progressively through the texts we have examined in class. 

Injustice in To Kill a Mockingbird

The 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird movie directed by Robert Mulligan is the tragic story of an innocent African American man, Tom Robinson, who is found guilty of rape charges all because of the jury’s prejudice. While the film version does differ from the original novel, written by Harper Lee, it carries the same heavy shadow of injustice that the legal system is plagued with. This film, heavily weighed down with racism, illuminates the flaws that occur in a space that is praised to be the most far of them all. During Tom’s trial, Atticus Finch, Tom’s attorney, delivers many convincing arguments as to how Tom did not rape Mayella. He exposes the consensual relationship the two had, Mayella’s pleads for Tom to visit and assist her, and how Mayella’s bruises do not line up with a purely right-handed man. However, the jury did not use an unbiased eye. They used Tom’s race against him to decide that even in light of all of the evidence that proved him to be innocent, he was guilty. Racism is a major injustice that is woven throughout the flawed legal system in Maycomb, Alabama.    

In the To Kill a Mockingbird film, the injustice of racism does not simply begin in the courts of Maycomb, but it is instilled in the minds of its citizens. This becomes evident throughout the film when Atticus is approached with racist and disgusting comments. Atticus becomes the target of indirect racism himself because he is defending the innocence of an African American man. This movie illuminates the generational racism towards African Americans which leads to the deep injustice found in the legal system. The film shows that a guilty verdict does not necessarily mean a guilty man. Tom Robinson proves that in Maycomb, skin color determines guilt.

Death and the Maiden, written by Ariel Dorfman, also directly works with the same theme of disbelief as the To Kill a Mockingbird film does. Both works highlight the inconsistencies and the injustices of the legal system. While To Kill a Mockingbird shows injustice to be bound in racism, Death and the Maiden finds it through gender. Paulina, as was Tom, suffers through the unescapable pain of not being believed. The difference is that while Tom was not believed by the town of Maycomb, Paulina was not believed by her own husband. This novel illustrates the deep injustice that women experience when their story is not believed.  

Upon Roberto’s arrival, Paulina knows that the man in her own home is her past attacker. She informs her husband, Gerardo, an attorney, of her instinct.  He questions her and her gut feeling, but never turns his back on the strange man, his wife’s alleged attacker. Even after Paulina pleads for her husband to understand and believe her, she instead takes everything into her own hands. In these moments, she is not seen as getting her own version of justice, she is seen as crazy. Paulina knows that she cannot go forth and beg the law for justice for herself. Her own husband refuses to listen and believe her; therefore, she knows that she would have little luck trying to convince a court. There is such a severe injustice for women throughout the legal system that they feel as though they have to step out and do things for themselves.

The most telling lines throughout the entirety of Death and the Maiden is when Paulina and Gerardo are talking through the potential of there being a court where they right the wrongs that happened under the dictatorship. Gerardo has the opportunity to be the attorney for it.  She is less than satisfied when she hears that even after all the evidence is presented, that the criminals still may get away due to a flawed legal system. It is all up to the judges in the end, “The judges? The same judges who never intervened to save one life in seventeen years of dictatorship…Judge Peralta who told that poor woman who had come to ask for her missing husband that the man had probably grown tired of her and run off with some other woman? That judge? What did you call him? A judge? A Judge? (Dorfman 10). This quote severely illuminates that women and victims are more often than not given unfair and unjust treatment in courts of law. One’s pain and abuse is either believed or not due to the decision of one man. Overall, both race and gender show the gaps in the To Kill a Mockingbird film and Death and the Maiden’s legal systems.  

To Kill a Mockingbird and Death and the Maiden

Watching the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird was an extremely different experience than reading the novel. While the plot stays deceptively similar to the book’s–several things are cut, but it sticks largely true to what it does show–seeing the action take place was jarring in a way reading the novel was not. This speaks to the true strength of Harper Lee’s version: Scout’s perspective and her singular, childlike view on everything around her. Without this guiding the story, the film is largely centered around and led by Atticus. The movie paints a wide picture of his life as both a single father and a lawyer in the Deep South in the 1930s. Through focusing on Atticus and the trial rather than Jem and Scout’s youth, the story takes a much different turn for the viewer. Instead of being ensconced in Scout’s innocent, simple life, there is no longer any buffer between the viewer and the dark, disturbing happenings in Maycomb.

I am not sure whether it was because of my own naivete, or Scout’s, but while reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I did not grasp the significance of the scene with the crowd outside of Tom’s holding cell. Not until we discussed it virtually did I fully understand that Mr. Cunningham and his friends tried to lynch Tom Robinson before his case had even come to trial. I did not understand, as Scout did not, what exactly the stakes were for Atticus as he sat on the steps and threatened them with the sheriff. I knew there was danger, but the vague feelings of discomfort and forbearance were replaced by an immediate sense of fear and disgust in the film’s version. Seeing it played out, it is clear and repugnant. Mr. Cunningham, the man who doesn’t like to be thanked, tells Atticus: “You know what we want.” Instead of being somewhat in the dark with Scout, this time I knew what he wanted, too. Replacing the perspective of the story entirely changes the tone, though the outcome remains the same. 

Likewise, when seeing the ending with Bob Ewell and Boo Radley, I was similarly disenchanted. Scout sees Boo as a kind of talisman, protector-like figure, perhaps even an imaginary friend. He represents the curiosity and daring of her childhood, and his rescue of her and Jem is a heroic moment, though he speaks little. Seeing him in the movie, he was actually kind of scary, and it hit me for the first time: he actually murdered a man. Not that Bob Ewell deserved less for his numerous crimes, including being basically responsible for Tom Robinson’s death and attempting to kill two children. The fact remains, though, that Boo Radley came out of his house, for the first time since stabbing his own father, and killed a man with a kitchen knife. It made me wonder if perhaps Atticus had been right to tell his children to stop obsessing over him, and if maybe there was a reason he had been locked away for so long. Without the veneer of childhood, the happy ending in the movie falls short in a way that I don’t think the novel’s ending did. Without Scout running the progression of events and narrating them in her own way as they related to her, the movie simply told a sad story and did nothing to fix it. Not that it could have been fixed; the damage was done. We even see Tom Robinson’s family react to his untimely death, in perhaps the scene hardest to watch. The film sorely missed Scout’s ability to seamlessly pair awful stories with the mundanities of school, summer, and her neighbors; the resilience of a child.

In comparing Atticus’s court scene to the other such representations of trials we have studied, I was drawn to thinking about Death and the Maiden. The cases involved are utterly and completely different, but both victims–Paulina and Tom Robinson–face obstacles that they know the law cannot, or will not, overcome for them. I am conflicted about the comparison between Atticus and Gerardo, but it begs to be made. They are both operators for the state with an interest in seeing the right thing happen, but both fall short in this pursuit. Of course, it is difficult to blame Atticus for the jury’s vote, and impossible to fault Gerardo for trying to dissuade Paulina from killing someone. However, Atticus’s ultimate loyalty is to justice more than to individuals, which reminds me of Gerardo in a sense. Gerardo was affected by his wife’s sufferings, and Atticus by Tom’s, but as lawyers devoted above all else, to the peaceful carrying out of the law, both of them lost something in the process.

Someone else talked about Atticus’s reaction to losing the case, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. He was resigned, not angry, which he had every right to be. Whether or not in the novel this was simply because he hid his anger from his children, in the film we see him grapple with Tom’s sentence and Tom’s death–he is affected, but not changed. He and Gerardo, while committed to justice as they see it, are ultimately serving a future that does not include the current grievances of their clients. Paulina, while on the opposite side of the “courtroom” than Tom, has a lot more in common with Tom than Mayella, her obvious counterpart. Though comparing Mayella and Paulina would reveal an interesting dichotomy; a woman seeking vengeance though held back by her husband, and a woman seeking a wrong vengeance under directions from her father. In Mayella’s case, her testimony did lead to the eventual death of the innocent man she accused. In Paulina’s, we never find out whether or not Roberto died, or whether or not he was innocent. Both show vastly different scenarios of the aftermath of a woman being sexually abused, but showcase the power–whether welded correctly or not–victims have when they say their piece. At the same time, they show the powerless; Paulina is never allowed to fully put Roberto on trial, and Mayella, in the end, put the wrong man to death because of her father’s continued hold over her. Atticus and Gerardo, though they might have won or lost their respective cases, have the power in both the play, the film, and the novel. With the law on their side, right or wrong, they are the heroes of their respective stories, and the ones with the most ability to affect change in their respective worlds.

Modern Day “Death and the Maiden”

Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden” was written 30 years ago about the Chilean regime. While it may seem specific, the play offers thematic elements that aren’t confined to the context of the play and are actually still relevant today. When reading the play, I felt that I had heard the story before, and I had actually seen it twice before reading what I consider the original. As a crime show fan, I’ve watched all of Criminal Minds and a lot of Law and Order SVU. Both shows pride themselves on using relevant topics for their content so I was surprised to realize that a play about Chile written 30 years prior was a basis for episodes from the shows. It proves to me that the topic of survivors finding a place in the law is still very much relevant today. 

The Criminal Minds episode “Unknown Subject” is about the BAU team trying to catch a serial rapist, not knowing that one of the former victims had kidnapped a man she believed to be the perpetrator. She believed him to be her attacker because he played a song that had been repeatedly played while she was raped, creating a physical reaction for her. This directly takes an element from “Death and the Maiden” because of the song. She uses a gun and kidnaps him to hear his confession, like Paulina does to Roberto. The discomfort with the situation of the “at home” version of the law is the same as it is in “Death and the Maiden”. The episode makes you uncomfortable because as the man is pleading his case to the survivor, he seems so rational and believable. This is very much like Roberto. He tries to outsmart her by throwing logical alternatives to her belief that he committed the crime. Like Paulina, the survivor is portrayed to be the one that is crazy. She seems overly aggressive and irrational- a contrast to the man who seems to be trying to bring reason in the situation. In Law and Order SVU, “Remember Me/Remember Me Too”, the situation is similar. The kidnapped man who the woman believes the perpetrator is believed. He is thought to be the rational one trying to bring reason into a situation created by the woman who he calls “a crazy bitch”. Because the man is portrayed as the rational one, both episodes are uncomfortable. This leads for me to the question of where the law provides space for survivors, especially female survivors. The reality is that in each of these works, the law does not offer an obvious place for women. So much so that the women believe that it is better to kidnap their alleged abuser rather than turn to the police. These women are angry. The law seems to be actively working against them and believing the perpetrators and so they believe that they have to find justice for themselves. This anger and frustration with the law is misplaced by the women which causes them to be portrayed as crazy and irrational. As discussed in Criminal Minds, the system is a revictimization of these survivors so they create their own system. The law is imperfect here. It does more to serve the perpetrators than it does for the victims so the victims get angry. Their credibility is destroyed with their anger because of how they seem, giving the credibility to the alleged perpetrator they have kidnapped. Even though the two shows were made much later than the play, the fact that they used the premise of the play shows that this topic is still very much an issue today and the law is still not giving survivors the space that they need.  

What is interesting about the episodes I watched is that both TV shows have a much stronger resolution that “Death and the Maiden”. In Criminal Minds, the BAU bursts in and convinces the survivor to put down her gun by telling her that the guy she kidnapped isn’t the perp. When he walks outside though, they arrest him for the 12 rapes. The man in Law and Order is also found to be guilty. We don’t get that same resolution or even an answer in “Death and the Maiden” and I think that is often the result of the law. I think the fact that these two modern takes end differently than the play proves that the law is moving more towards finding concrete answers for survivors. Maybe it is going to take a long time still and it is not going to be an easy journey, but the modern versions could be showing a shift in mindset of the people, which could lead to changes in the law. And this change could provide room for survivors in the law- something that each of these works prove is necessary for the success of justice.

Each of the works also prove how important a confession is to the healing of survivors. While they each change elements of the story, especially the endings, all of the survivors on the show want a confession. It is why each of them create their own “trials”. It shows how important the truth is for the law and for the healing of victims. These women need to hear their attackers confess and tell the truth so that they may start their healing process. The space in which they do this is their own because the law does not provide one for them.

Not Believing Women in Literature and Film

In the TV series Unbelievable there is a serial rapist praying on women across counties who two detectives spend extensive time and resources to find. This series focuses on women and their experiences with rape and the women who are trying to catch the man who raped them. The first character introduced, Marie Adler, is not believed by loved ones and police about her rape. She is made to feel like her voice doesn’t matter and like she has to keep this tragedy that happened to her a secret. This situation Marie faces is very similar to the one Paulina faces in Death and the Maiden. These stories both focus on a key concept of not believing women. Another play that Unbelievable relates to is The Furies. In both of these works of stories, women play strong leading roles and come together as strong female forces in finding truth and solutions when faced with crime. Whether the motive is to catch a criminal or to build a better system in society, women are seen in both of these stories to be in the driver’s seat solving problems created by men.

    In Unbelievable Marie Adler is the first victim shown to the audience who is dealt a terrible hand in the way she is treated by police. She is harassed and made to feel incompetent by the two officers who convince her that she has made up the rape entirely. Through the series the audience sees her struggle emotionally with a weight on her shoulders she shouldn’t have to carry. As if having to deal with the aftermath of being raped isn’t enough, she also has to deal with not being believed by anyone and feeling as if she must suppress and hide all of her emotions about it. In Death and the Maiden Paulina deals with not being believed by her husband. Due to what is going on politically in this story with their society and amnesty trials, Paulina feels she will never get justice unless her husband’s new high-ranking position could help bring one of her rapists to stand trial for his crimes against her. Her husband leaves her without hope of any justice when it is made clear that he thinks she is wrong and fixated on blaming someone innocent for what happened to her. Marie Adler also feels as if she will never get justice due to the inability of the police to help her. The goal of the police in the simplest of terms is to protect and Marie instead receives callousness and manipulation by men in uniforms who she thought she could trust. Both women are facing a battle in which the system will not bring justice to either of them. Marie struggles with this burden of being assaulted and then deemed a liar for years and Paulina deals with the burden of being assaulted and not being believed by her own husband.

    Unbelievable also relates to the play The Furies where in both stories, women seem to hold the power and strength in problem solving. In Unbelievable, the two female detectives put their heads together into uncovering a serial rapist and finding out who he is. They not only solve this mystery of who the serial rapist is, but they also brought to light that Marie Adler was telling the truth. They uncover this truth that was buried and forgotten about by the two male detectives who had made Marie feel as if she was lying. Their finding and convicting the rapist brings justice to what happened to the victims as well as justice to Marie in feeling solidified in her feelings about what happened to her and how to deal with it. In The Furies, the Furies and Athena seem to play the role of deciding the fate of a crime committed by Orestes. This is a crime against a woman committed at the hands of a man just as in Unbelievable. Orestes commits matricide and Athena and the Furies argue about his punishment, whether he should be sentenced to death or pardoned for his crime. The Furies and Athena put their heads together in deciding what to do in this predicament. These women turn their disagreement of Orestes fate into a compromise where the Furies benefit from a relationship with Athena as she grants them power in their society rather than be outcasts of it as they were before. In both the tv series and play, women are seen coming together to compromise and problem solve for the greater good of other people. Athena and the Furies come to an agreement to work together in helping the citizens of Athens while the two detectives put their heads together in finding a serial rapist and helping his victims get the justice they deserve.

Reconciliation vs Violence

While reading Country of My Skull, one of the lines that jumped off of the page for me was on page 77; the line reads, “South Africa’s shameful apartheid past has made people lose their humanity. It dehumanized people to such an extent that they treated fellow human beings worse than animals. And this must change for ever.” After reading the many stories of the ways in which victims were tortured and killed, this line held a strong weight regarding the pervasiveness of dehumanization that occurred in South Africa. 

Similarly, this line also brought to mind the same concept of the cycle of violence that was illustrated in Death and the Maiden. This made me wonder what would have happened to Paulina if she was allowed a similar opportunity to “reconcile;” from my perspective, Paulina’s radical behavior was as a result of there being no opportunity for her to obtain closure of any kind. For this reason, she took the situation in her own hands and acted in a way that was significantly more violent than what likely would have occurred at the hands of the government or a higher authority. The weight of what happened to Paulina was, to me, a result of the fact that the atrocities committed against her were dismissed because they did not end in death and she had no option for reconciliation, revenge, or closure. In the TRC, on the other hand, victims who were both dead and alive were given the chance to obtain “reconciliation.” I wonder, if this had occurred for Paulina, would her appetite for revenge have been curbed?

From my perspective, the greatest strength of the TRC was the opportunity to offer acknowledgement to the victims of violence. The system was undeniably imperfect, but it is my opinion that, if this same opportunity has been offered to Paulina, much of the violence that ensued would have been avoided. Instead, she was repeatedly accused of being mentally ill and told to move on from the incident while simultaneously being denied any opportunity for closure; in this situation, it is no wonder that she reacted in a violent and irrational way. The only way to exit the cycle of violence is to provide acknowledgement of past wrongdoings and agree to move away from them – though imperfectly, I think the TRC did this well.

Roberto’s Inconsistencies

            Ariel Dorfman certainly gives her play “Death and the Maiden” an ambiguous ending, and it leaves the reader wondering two things: if Paulina killed Roberto and if Roberto was guilty or innocent. Since the time interval of events is so short, the reader is never able to get a good judgment on Roberto’s character. When reading the play, I noticed some inconsistencies in Roberto’s character that would make me believe that he is guilty.

            One inconsistency begins in act one scene two when Roberto shows up at Paulina and Gerardo’s home. Roberto and Gerardo discuss how serious the punishment should be for the past dictatorship and they share their opinions on the amnesty of the past regime. Surprisingly, Roberto takes an extreme stance and says that the people of the past dictatorship should all die. He says, “I’m for killing the whole bunch of them” as well as “there are people who simply don’t deserve to be alive.” This merciless and violent stance is expressed quite casually and calmly as well, and these statements would indirectly characterize him as a violent man. Now later in the play in act two scene two, Roberto is pleading to Gerardo to free him and says, “I’m a quiet man. Anyone can see that I’m incapable of violence- violence of any sort sickens me.” This statement is a complete contradiction to his violent stance on the past regime. How could Roberto advocate for the death penalty to all involved in the dictatorship when “violence of any sort sickens” him? I would argue that at the beginning of the play is best way to judge his character because he is not tied up and in his most natural state. This state would show his true personality because he does not know that Paulina is Gerardo’s wife. Also, the violent nature without a doubt line up to what he is accused for.

            The next inconsistency is brought to light by Paulina. Roberto successfully manipulates Gerardo into getting the story from Paulina in order to forge the false confession. However, Paulina gives Gerardo false information in which Roberto corrects in fear of not getting the confession correct. This provides further proof that Roberto is lying and trying to manipulate Paulina into thinking that she has the wrong guy. The corrections that Roberto makes are so unique to the story that in order to know that information he had to have been involved in Paulina’s torture..

Is Closure Possible for Paulina?

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?”

Unreliable Justice in Death & the Maiden

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.