This essay examines the adverse effects vengeance has had on the central figure of Paulina in Death And The Maiden, and Claire Zachanassian in The Visit.
Death And The Maiden, combining effortlessly elements of suspense, mystery and morality, intertwines them with highly interesting insights into the psychological recesses of a victim, forced to live with the open wounds of her persecution. The play, taking place in an unnamed country, is set in the times when the country has just escaped from a brutal fascist regime. Paulina lives with her husband Gerardo, who was once an activist working against the dictatorship and is now a member of a committee assigned to investigate human-rights violations. A few years back, Paulina was kidnapped and brutally raped and tortured while blindfolded, by a sadistic doctor who played Franz Schubert's quartet "Death And The Maiden." She believes that the stranger that her husband has now brought into their home is the doctor responsible for her traumatic experience. She imprisons the doctor, extracts a forced confession from him and yet, instead of killing him, lets him go in the end.
The play provides the reader with ample chances to look inside the tortured soul of Paulina and understand the extent to which her personality has been distorted by her past experiences. Paulina insists fiercely that the prisoner be put on trial and adamantly refuses to hear the moderate voice of her husband, showing that she has lost all rationality and reason and is blinded by a terrible rage. By depicting this, Dorfman has shown how thirst for revenge remains dormant, hiding beneath the layers of a victim's, in this case Paulina's, personality creating an illusion of normalcy, lulling the victim's loved ones into a false sense of complacency. However, when Paulina is shown to be reliving a traumatic experience from her past, her hatred resurfaces again with such violence that it shocks.
When Paulina binds the doctor to a chair, she gags him using her panties. This action of hers is highly insightful as it shows that the doctor's total degradation is her main aim and nothing else, and only the most humiliating treatment meted out to her prisoner will satisfy her. She does this because unconsciously she desires the doctor to go through the same mental and emotional torment that she went through. Seeing him helpless, physically bound and gagged, writhing in agony and even unable to feed himself, gives her a deep, perverse satisfaction. Keeping her secret activities against the fascist regime of her country and her courage during her captivity in view, we can safely to assume that Paulina is a decent human being with a high moral sense and belief in lofty ideals such as freedom and justice, but when it comes to Dr. Roberto Miranda, she remorselessly throws all those ideals to the wind and becomes a tigress, thirsty for blood.
Dorfman effectively highlights the inner turmoil of Paulina's soul by juxtaposing her tormented psyche with physical proof of how much she suffers. The reader can actually feel her nerves taut with tension due to her clipped dialogues and her equally explosive diatribes. The following tirade of hers, serves as a clear indication of her suffering under a spell of hatred, as she says, "And why