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Long Night’s Journey Into Day – Grief, Forgiveness, and Motherhood

“Long Night’s Journey Into Day” is a film about the racial and political violence in South Africa during its period of apartheid rule. The film showed a few of the many horrifying cases of murder that occurred during this time. Some cases were later brought forth in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee – which was a way for perpetrators to confess to the families and friends of their victims, and ask for amnesty. One of the main purposes of the TRC was to reveal South Africa’s dark past, rather than bury it. 

The film started off with the case of Amy Biehl, a young American girl, who was studying and reporting on the racial divide and apartheid in South Africa. During her time in Cape Town, she was brutally murdered by a black mob. This case really stuck out to me for many reasons. One being how her parents reacted to this tragedy. I thought it was borderline crazy, yet so inspiring that her parents actually supported and pushed for the TRC to grant the murderers of Amy amnesty. The scene where Amy’s parents visited the homes of one of the perpetrator’s mothers was shocking as well – that they could feel compassion for the mother of a man who killed their daughter, and were able to visit and have a conversation with her. Another aspect of that story that stuck out to me was when one of her murderers was interviewed and felt a great deal of remorse after hearing Amy’s parents speak about their daughter at trial. Hearing about Amy’s personality and passions and her mission in South Africa really humanized her and impacted everyone. Another scene in particular that was extremely upsetting to watch was when one of the mothers of another victim started to scream and cry during the trial of his murderer. It made me so upset to the point of discomfort – like I had no place watching this mother’s raw pain when seeing and hearing about the death of her son. Dr. Gulick truly put it best in today’s class discussion – that the feeling of discomfort is similar to seeing someone naked. It was a very impactful scene, I could see other women sitting in the audience at the trial who were so moved that they too were crying. 

It is clear that one main focal point of the film was on the mothers of the victims. Although they all handled grief in different ways, something that was somewhat common among all of them was their ability to forgive. The mothers were able to sit down with the perpetrators and express their sadness and confusion for the crime, but also forgive them for their actions. One mother was talking to the black police officer who killed her son, and stated that as upset as she is, she must forgive him in order to heal and move forward. “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” was very eye-opening for me and I honestly can’t believe I hadn’t heard more about it before – it was stated that South Africa had the most notorious form of racial domination since Nazi Germany, and I think it is definitely a part of history that needs to be talked about more. 

Forgiveness, Remorse, and Justice in Long Night’s Journey Into Day

The film Long Night’s Journey Into Day features four stories of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from those seeking amnesty for the crimes they have committed during apartheid in South Africa. Amnesty would be considered in exchange for the truth. Granting such pardons requires forgiveness, which is a main theme throughout the film.

The first story featured in the film greatly exemplifies the theme of forgiveness. This story in particular made headlines around the world: American exchange student, Amy Biehl, was killed in a mob by three South African men. The men claimed to be motivated by the political tensions that were undergoing in the township at the time. The killing of her “exposed both our anger and the conditions under which we lived. Because if we had been living reasonably we would not have killed her.” When is it permissible to justify murder with anger? It is still wrong. However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated that they would consider granting amnesty to those who tell the truth, and the men do provide the truth.

The men and their families continued to express their remorse and to request amnesty for the murder of Biehl. What was extremely significant about this case was that the parents of the victim reached out and provided support to the mother of one of the murderers. After expressing her remorse to the victim’s grieving family, the mother was visited by Biehl’s parents, who ensured her that they would not oppose her son’s application to be freed from jail. Is it fair that offering remorse can allow someone to be forgiven and pardoned for their crimes?

The parents of Amy Biehl are unique in the way that they are so forgiving despite the major pain and suffering they had to experience. The story of her murder reveals that remorse and forgiveness have the ability to impact the outcome of a legal case.

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.

Gerardo – Toxic Masculinity

Death & The Maiden followed the story of a woman named Paulina who after escaping from being a political prisoner, believes that her husband has picked up the doctor who played a role in her being subjected to torture and torment within her imprisonment. Paulina then decides to take “justice” into her own hands by holding her own form of a trial for her captor, named Roberto. Her husband Gerardo disapproved of her tactics from the very beginning and attempted to convince his wife to release the man who he doesn’t believe was her actual captor. 

One major theme that I observed while reading this story was the unwillingness of Paulina’s husband, to simply believe his wife. From the beginning, when Paulina says to Gerardo that Roberto is the Doctor from her time spent being a political prisoner, he immediately dismisses her case by saying that “You’re Sick.” Knowing that Paulina suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder and is not fully at terms with it, I found that very abusive in nature. As a married couple, I feel that it is very detrimental to the relationship to be so dismissive of your partners feelings, especially after going through a traumatic experience like the one that Paulina experienced. 

            As an individual within the judicial system and a member of the justice commission, one would assume that Gerardo would have the skills to be able to separate his emotions and be impartial enough to listen to Paulina, instead of instantly dismissing Paulina’s point of view. But when it came to Gerardo, he had the decency to treat him with respect, and listened to his point of view. “I’d rather speak to you as if you were a client, Doctor Miranda. That will help me out.” Gerardo said. But would not have those same intentions with his wife. Gerardo’s actions very accurately depicted the concept of toxic masculinity. It is this concept that is harmful to women in more ways than one, and in the case of Paulina could have been very detrimental. 

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.

Paulina and Schubert

In “The Death and the Maiden,” Paulina takes it upon herself and Gerado to try Roberto in a household trial. The goal of this trial is justice and closure for Paulina, who seeks to get Roberto to confess to his crimes. Yet, the trial is unique in that it is occurring privately rather than publicly, making me question how this distinction impacts the effect it has on Paulina. One way I think we can see how it impacted her is through the symbolism of Schubert’s orquestra. In the end, I believe we can see that Paulina does receive some justice and/or closure (I’m not sure they are the same and how to draw the line between them in this instance) for the crimes committed against her.

While she was trying Roberto, she explained how she could not listen to Schubert’s quartet because it was played by Roberto while she was raped. Paulina says. “And now, I’ll be able to listen to my Schubert again.” (21). This hope of Paulina’s after trying Roberto becomes true. In the last scene, Paulina and Gerado are at a concert hall to hear the orquestra of Death and the Maiden. This action is symbolic and I read it as her receiving some sort of feeling of closure/justice as she now has the power to listen to Schubert again, a power taken by Roberto predating his trial. Yet, during the concert it is clear that there is still a gap in her satisfaction of the trial’s result: “Paulina does not applaud” unlike the rest of the audience (66). This makes me wonder what would it have taken for her to clap, which to me would have signified her feelings of complete and total justice/closure. Would it have been for Roberto’s crimes and name to be public? Would it have been for him to be punished under law? Or perhaps, is this as far as justice can reach for Paulina, and Roberto’s crimes will always slightly stain her appreciation for Schubert?

Poetic Injustice

I find it ironic that Gerardo, a justice on the Commission, is serving the biggest injustice to his very own wife. The beginnings of Gerardo’s promise first appear on page 35 where Paulina says, “…what did you swear you’d do to them when you found them? ‘Some day, my love, we’re going to put these bastards on trial. Your eyes will be able to rove’ – I remember the exact phrase, because it seemed, poetic – ‘your eyes will be able to rove each one of their faces while they listen to your story.'” Gerardo offered her sweet, consoling words but seemingly only to keep her placated and submissive.

Gerardo’s intentions of placation continue to become more noticeable on page 45 where he and Roberto are alone in the kitchen. Gerardo tells Roberto that he needs to confess to the part, even though Gerardo has doubts that Roberto is guilty because Gerardo thinks his wife is “sick” and wants her to stop her madness. How is Gerardo supposed to fulfill his promise of justice to Paulina if all he does is question and belittle her? It seems as though every opportunity Gerardo has to seek the truth, he turns a blind eye to the evidence laying before him because, if Roberto somehow is proven innocent, Gerardo’s career would be over before it was made. His justice for Paulina is a self-serving one in which the end assists him, not his wife.

On page 63, Roberto confesses to Paulina that Gerardo coached him on his confession; however, on the following page, Paulina in turn admits to Roberto that she expected him to do so which is why she fed Gerardo incorrect details which the abuser then subconsciously corrected. Paulina had apparently abandoned hope of her husband carrying through on his promise of justice and sough it herself. Gerardo never completed his promise of poetic justice, and in the end, whatever justice was doled out was delivered by Paulina herself.

What is truth?

Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden” explores the story of a traumatized woman in a former totalitarian regime. The irony of this play is that Paulina’s husband, Gerardo, is in charge of the government’s Truth Commission, which investigates the crimes and horrors of the former dictatorship in an effort to bring forth the atrocities and guilty to the public eye for purposes of justice, yet he doesn’t believe his wife when she exposes the man who raped and tortured her. At his defense, Gerardo’s view of justice and the law stands as a barrier from allowing him to completely and undeniably believe his wife, as his job in the newly democratic government is to search for the truth through witnesses and testimony in a professional courtroom setting. However, his definition of justice, which is a pretty universal view of practiced law, inhibits him from listening to his wife and poses the question of whether or not trial courts expose the whole truth of these kinds of situations. It also poses the question on whether or not Paulina’s truth would even be valid within the official court system even though she is clearly certain that her truth is the only truth. Who is protected from the law in theory versus in practice?

Where are Women in the Law?

The question that I pose in the title is one that has been left for us in almost all of the readings. We read about what justice does for men (The Furies) and what the law provides for men (Declaration of Independence). What we don’t see is where the law has left room for women. This question is asked in Death and the Maiden and answered in an interesting way. Paulina has been unable to see justice for the horrible crimes committed against her. She shows serious disillusionment with the justice system which leads her to kidnap her abuser to put on her own trial. She sums up her thoughts at the end of the play by asking, “And why does it always have to be 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?” (Dorfman 66). Because she knows that the actual commission won’t help her, Paulina tries to invent her own system of justice that still lets her down. I think here she is giving her own answer to the presented question. She says that it’s not as easy as women just being left out of the justice process, but they are the ones to lose the most. Not only is Paulina brutally tortured and raped, but then she has to be labelled as “sick” and irrational. She is lied to by her husband and her rapist who conspire against her. The system of justice that she invents, still finds a way to re-victimize her. I think an interesting and bold claim that Dorfman could be trying to make is that justice is sexist. The plotline features two men conspiring against a survivor of sexual assault who is just trying to heal. Rather than listening and believing her, Gerardo automatically believes the other man in the situation. There is a moment that he believes her, but it still seems that he turns on her. The law, and justice in the law, does not leave room for women so women have to make room for themselves. Still, however, the system is stacked against survivors hiding behind the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” which Gerardo brings up in the play. I think I am ending with even more questions than I began with about the law being sexist. Why do women have to find justice for themselves/why aren’t they believed? Why haven’t we fixed this? Where do we draw the line at innocent until proven guilty?

Eichmann’s punishment and justice

Reading “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” I immediately found myself wondering what the punishment for Eichmann would be since it is clear he is presumed to be, and is in fact, guilty of these crimes. As I continued reading about these crimes, I began to feel as if there is no punishment fit to his crimes, that no individual can ever receive such a severe punishment for suffering caused against an entire group of people. Ardent addresses these concerns. Some critics against the death penalty state, “The most common arguement was that Eichmann’s deeds defied the possiblity of human punshiment” (250). Others who attempted to address this gap between the severity of the crimes committed and the absence of an equivalent punishment propose more creative punishments such as “Eichmann should have spent the rest of his life at hard labor … (250). However, I feel this would not be fitting as it implies that law has the capability of closing the gap between justice and the crimes committed through various punishments, which I don’t believe is not possible in the case of Eichmann. 

Ardent also addresses those who called this punishment, “unimaginative,” which caught my eye reading because it is synonymous to banal, the essence, Ardent argues, of Eichmann’s evil. Ardent herself does not believe this is a reason to not inflict the death penalty (in her ideal version of the trial in her epilogue, she states he “must hang” (279)). In this framing, I do not think Ardent criticizes the punishment, but rather the trial and audience which failed to explore alternative manners of conduct in the courtroom, such as questioning Eichmann’s testimony of his lack or guilt, lack of hate, and lack of agency in his crimes. Reading this part of the book in particular, it seemed that critics looked for alternative punishments to close this gap between his crime and punishment, when Ardent perhaps wants them to embody this alternative approach to looking at things in trial and future for different ways of measuring justice. As a reader, it seems Ardent wants me to look at the development of the law different going forward, in manners such as the creation of “an international penal law” (273) reckoning with the fact that justice for the victims through punishment of the criminal may not ever be possible in the aftermath WW2 and could occur again.