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Ultimately, Paulina must confront the self-interest that drives her to take violent revenge on Dr. Miranda.
Death and the Maiden must be briefly summarized before analysis may proceed. The play is the story of Paulina, who, when in prison for unnamed political crimes, she was raped. All of the actions of revenge and recognition that make up the play’s plot involve this rape. She recognizes the rapist years later, after political fortunes in the country change. The setting of the play is Latin or South America, but the country is not specified. “The time is the present and the place, a country that is probably Chile but could be any country that has given itself a democratic government just after a long period of dictatorship” (Dorfman, 4). The main rapist was a doctor, and Pauline recognizes him later as Dr. Miranda, and takes him captive. The play is left a mystery, however, because Paulina’s husband tries to protect the man, and it is left unsaid whether or not there may be a case of mistaken identity. So, either Pauline is crazy, or she is telling the truth—she gets a confession and appears satisfied, but the ending is left unresolved, so Pauline may kill the doctor It appears at the end of the play that Pauline may have indeed gone crazy, as she starts seeing the doctor’s ghost.
Paulina knows superficially that vengeance is an action, not a series of drawn out philosophical uncertainties within the trial she “arranges” for him, but her essential character is motivated by self-interest. This is not to say that Paulina is only interested in self-preservation, but rather that she is unable to simply kill the doctor, as she knows she must, because she is not essentially the sort of person who does not deliberate over decisions in a manner that seeks to instruct others. From this perspective, Paulina is a tragic hero in the play, but her heroism is not forged on the battlefield of
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