Death And The Maiden Summary

The Gun and the Cart both play key roles in their respective stories. Their importance lies in the fact that the authors are able to use them to convey many ideas to the readers which cannot always be expressed in words. These two objects support both Paulina (Death and the Maiden) and Mother Courage and influence the way both women behave in their respective environments as well. In “Death and the Maiden” Act 1, Scene 1 and 2, a very submissive Paulina is presented to the reader.

A Paulina who is usually unhappy with the decisions made by Gerardo but has no real choice in these matters as her husband chooses for her and only asks for her consent as a formality. A clear example of this is in Scene 1 where Gerardo asks for her approval to accept the post offered to him by the president, Paulina tells Gerardo that she knows he has already made up his mind and has accepted the post (Paulina: “I don’t see what you have to think over.

You’ve already made your decision, Gerardo, you know you have”). Eventually she agrees saying that “It’s the only yes I’ve got” while this makes it seem as if her opinion was truly considered the final line of Scene 1 shows the reader that she simply could not refuse Gerardo as the decision was already made for her. (Gerardo: “Yes. I told him I’d do it. Before asking you. ) Another example of this when Gerardo invites Miranda over for dinner without even asking Paulina (Scene 1) , thus, although the country had been freed from the oppressive rule of the dictatorship Paulina was still oppressed within her own house itself.

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However, the entire atmosphere changes after Scene 3 when Paulina takes possession of the gun. With the gun in Paulina’s hand Dorfman shows a different side of her, the earlier compliant Paulina is gone and in her place is a woman who is in control of the situation.

Paulina Death And The Maiden

Paulina realizes that it is the gun which allows her to speak her mind and finally make choices, in Act 1 Scene 4 when Gerardo tells her to put the gun down as it is preventing any dialogue from taking place, she counters saying that as soon as she puts the gun down “all dialogue will terminate” since Gerardo would use his “strength to win the argument” showing that the gun is her only source of defense against him. The gun becomes both a symbol of power and a symbol of defense for Paulina who being a woman would never be able to physically overpower Gerardo.

Thus, keeping a more feminist view in mind, both Gerardo and Miranda represent a male-dominated world where Paulina, the woman, has very few choices and is forced to take a very desperate and dangerous way out, represented by the gun. Dorfman also shows the reader how this would not normally be way in which Paulina would free herself, shown by her inexperience in handling the gun. (Act 1, Scene 4, “It’s clear she did not know how to fire the weapon”) It also shows how new this freedom of choice was for Paulina.

The gun is not only for Paulina’s protection but is also her only means to gain justice for herself. While she does talk about people who had been denied justice like her, the emphasis is always on the word ‘me’. The fact that it is a gun that she uses, a weapon that only protects her and harms others shows the reader that she wanted her justice no matter what the cost was to anyone else. In “Mother Courage”, the cart is a clear symbol of survival. It is Mother Courage’s only means of enduring the war and supporting her children.

Similar to Paulina in “Death and the Maiden”, Mother Courage too is a woman all alone in a world controlled by men (a fact that all the powerful posts in the army such as ‘general’ belong to men). However unlike Paulina, Mother Courage is very well versed with business and this shows us that she has been living like this for a very long time. We can see this from Scene 1 where she bites the half-florin and says she’s “got no faith in any kind of money” showing that she has traveled far and wide and has vast experience in business matters.

Another example of this is in Scene 2 when she haggles effectively with the cook over the price of a hen. Mother Courage may seem very business minded with her cart being the only reason to live being her cart; however the reality of the situation is that the cart is just a means of earning money to take care of her children. When Swiss Cheese is captured she is ready to hand over her cart in exchange, the only reason she bargains for more is the fact that she still ahs a daughter to care for.

Taking care of her children probably has a broader societal meaning, it could refer to the protection of the weak and oppressed during the war, this can be further justified by the fact that none of the children share the same father and non of this matters to Mother Courage in whose mind they are all her family, hence, the conventional idea of what a family should be like is completely broken in this way where a cart is what keeps them together. This can be compared to Gerardo and Paulina who, while married share a very dysfunctional relationship with Paulina ironically being able to tell Roberto more things than she can tell her husband.

Once again the idea of ‘family’ is challenged where Paulina can only be heard through the sound of gunshot. In “Mother Courage” there is no continuity between the scenes, yet Mother Courage and her cart remain constant even in a war, on the other hand, in “Death and the Maiden” the flow of the story is constant, however Paulina and her actions are not. Although she lives in an age of democracy, the gun in her hand dissolves all such ideas and brings it down to a question of who has the strength to do what they want.

In Act 2, Scene 1, while pointing the gun to Roberto’s temple she says “Out there you bastards may still give the orders, but in here, I’m in command. Is that clear? ” This shows almost twisted thinking on Paulina’s part in a world where everyone had the right to speak out. Another interesting aspect to note is that the gun in “Death and the Maiden” would probably have been more suited in the war-ravaged setting of Mother “Courage”, the cart which is a symbol of business would fit far better in “Death and the Maiden” where the country has just attained democracy and is free of oppressive dictatorship.

The cart is symbolizes the prosperity and capitalism which democracy is supposed to bring. However, the gun and the cart seem very out of place in their respective environments. While it is obvious that the authors had not planned both stories together we still see a common thread of thought in the writing of both authors, in one case the gun shows a shadow of the past, the presence of the oppressive dictatorship is still looming over while in “Mother Courage” the cart shows the future, the war will one day end and normal life will return.

While the ideas seem very contrasting in nature, the common factor is that they both show the reader that nothing is truly perfect or complete; there is no continuity in any form of system, The very fact that it is so difficult shows us that this idea could never be conveyed to the reader through sheer words, the image of the gun and the cart instead paint this picture in our minds.

While very different, both the gun and the cart play very similar roles in each story. Their importance to the leading characters is unquestionable and the many ideas they reveal, while different, show the reader the same thing. Hence, it must be said that these items form an integral part of their respective stories.

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Death And The Maiden Summary. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Death And The Maiden Summary
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