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Trauma Inflicted Upon Journalists in Country of my Skull

“We sleep between one and two hours a night. We live on chocolate and potato chips. After five years without cigarettes, I start smoking again” (Krog, 51).

This quote written by Krog is seen in chapter three of Country of my Skull as she explains the emotional conflict that journalists like her are forced to deal with throughout their careers reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The film, Long Night’s Journey Into Day did not address the emotional burden brought upon the reporters. This was something I had thought about; how it must be extremely difficult to put one’s emotions aside while having to film and interview innocent people who are experiencing a very painful level of grief. I was so glad that Krog touched upon this in Country of my Skull because it was something that really interested me. I am a particularly sensitive and empathetic person, so I do not see myself as fit for the role that Krog is able to fulfil, although she does struggle.

There is a sense of strength that such journalists are required to possess in order to perform their jobs efficiently. Krog was affected by the stories in such an extreme way that she was drawn to return to a past addiction portrays the severe emotional trauma that comes with being a journalist. Krog shows that the amount of emotional strength it takes to quit an addiction like smoking cigarettes can be easily lost when an emotional trauma of equal or greater force interferes.

Krog continues to write, “we develop techniques to lessen the impact. We no longer go into the halls where the hearings take place, because of the accumulated grief. We watch on the monitors provided. The moment someone starts crying, we start writing/scribbling/doodling” (Krog, 51). She shows readers that they are forced to come up with ways to deal with the trauma inflicted upon them. I thought it was very interesting that she also wrote that the journalists are, in a way, each other’s therapists; as they are going through the same thing, they are there for each other to ease the intense emotional burden.

The emotional burden of being a journalist and having to report on such sensitive cases is something I have not thought about prior to watching Long Night’s Journey Into Day and reading Country of my Skull. Learning about this actually gave me a much better appreciation for the work that these journalists do. Their careers are not just reciting information about cases; they are often faced with hardships and are forced to find their own ways of putting their emotions aside to lessen their own agony.

Is Paulina a Reliable Character in Death and the Maiden?

            From the beginning of Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, it is clear that Paulina is a character that has experienced some sort of a traumatic situation in her past that has permanently altered her personality. This is evident from the first mention of Paulina in the play. When she hears a car approaching her house, she instantly becomes worrisome, “She hurriedly stands up, goes to the other room, looks out the window… goes to the sideboard, takes out a gun, stops when the motor is turned off and she hears Gerardo’s voice” (2). Dorfman makes Paulina’s harrowing past even more prominent when she and Gerardo discuss his offer from the President, “Nobody in the new government knows. I’m talking about the fact that we never made it public, as you never—as we never denounced the things that they—what they…” (6).

            Paulina then goes on to capture Roberto (15), a man whom her husband trusted enough to not only willingly offer him solace in their guest room for the night- but insisted that he stay there, as he declares “I won’t hear of it. You’re staying. You’re what? You’re half an hour away… Not another word” (13). This action, in accordance with Paulina’s paranoia and distressed nature, seems to strongly imply that Paulina may suffer from some form of mental instability; which Roberto does suggest claiming, “I do not know you, madam. I have never seen you before in my life. But I can tell you this: you are extremely ill, almost prototypically schizoid” (23). At which point I found myself agreeing with him and generally believing that Paulina was just unstable and becoming unhinged; which very well may have been Dorfman’s intentions in making Paulina seem to be of such unsound mind.

            The point at which I found myself beginning to agree with and fully believe Paulina’s accusation against Roberto came when she tells Gerardo that she recognizes more than just Roberto’s voice, “It’s not only the voice I recognize, Gerardo. I also recognize the skin. And the smell. Gerardo. I recognize his skin” (27). In situations such as Paulina’s, victims are taught to memorize as many details of their captors and surroundings as possible; therefore, it is highly plausible that Paulina could not mistake these aspects because they have been engrained into her memory. Furthermore, Paulina inserted slight variations in her story to Gerardo knowing that he would use that for Roberto’s confession; thus, proving that Roberto was, in fact, guilty- as he corrected all of her discrepancies (45). Not only does this prove Roberto’s guilt, it also proves Paulina’s reliability as a character.

Gender Roles in Death and the Maiden

Embedded throughout Death and the Maiden written by Ariel Dorfman, many themes circulate through the hands of the entirety of the play. One of the main themes is gender and gender roles. Paulina is put in a position where she is in her own home with her husband and the man that supposedly raped and tortured her. In order for Paulina to cope with who she believes to be her rapist in her home, she acts out and ties Roberto to a chair. This falls out of the classic gender role that women are supposed to obtain. Women, both victims and non-victims, are told to suppress their feelings and not let their emotions get the best of them; however, Paulina closes this gap between the gender roles by allowing her emotions to run free. Paulina’s husband also seems to be shocked by the unexpected makeshift trial that occurs in his house. He repeatedly asks and begs Paulina to rethink what she is doing and to take the rational route of thinking, that killing Roberto will do nothing because she is not even positive that he is the right man. Paulina rejects these reasonings with a sense of exhaustion and anger. She will no longer listen to the man who thinks it is his duty to interject his opinions on what a woman ought to do, “When are you going to stop telling me what I can and can’t do. ‘You can’t do this, you can do that, you can’t do this.’ I did it” (24). Paulina’s unpredictable actions take gender roles and completely flips them on their head. She takes an abused woman who was taught to suppress her feelings and emotions and unties her tightly bound leash. Paulina’s actions show what a woman who has been violated mentally and physically looks like when they finally release the image of what should be. Paulina set fire to the gender roles and acted in the face of trauma the only way she knew how: with wild aggression.

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?