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Marxist Theory

There are many aspects of Marxist theory that can readily be applied to Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, however, there are two which this page will consider. Using Friedrich Engel’s The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State this page will consider the role of the family in Dorfman’s play and the effects of the dictatorship has on that dynamic. Then using Marx’s own theory, this page will consider how the desire for commodities is the underlying cause for the governments previous actions, and that Dorfman shows this by placing focus on objects both literally and through objectification.

The first term of Engel’s text to consider is consanguinity. This refers to the differing family structures and they form with regards to blood relatives. The importance is that Engels references Marx as saying that the phenomenon of consanguinity ‘applies to political, juridical, religious and philosophical systems generally’ (Engels 46). Once democracy was restored in Chile, roles in society returned to a tiered system and Gerardo is able to return to his Justice position as part of the new government. However during the dictatorship, the tiered system was removed for the majority of the people of Chile in terms of treatment. In a sense it returned to the ‘Hawaiian’ (Engels 46) system in that beneath the government officials and strong supporters, the rest of the Chilean people become conglomerated, however, this is not so much as sense of community but as a general slump in human-worth.

Next, from Gerado’s surprise at his wife’s foul language when addressing the alleged doctor, coupled with his reductive language towards her throughout the play with pet names etc. it is clear that Gerardo regards his wife in the typical chauvinist ways of the bourgeois; though the inclusion of the expectation of a feminine, obedient, and subordinate stereotype lends itself to a Feminist reading which is particularly apt, in an attempt to limit this page to Marxist theory I will continue with this quote from The German Ideology:

‘The bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that [under communism] the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion than that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to women.
He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at [by communists] is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production.’ (Marx and Engels 27)

The effect of this is dangerous, and Dorfman show’s this through the atrocities that occur to Paulina. If Paulina as a woman under this chauvinist ideal, is unable to reproduce, she loses her sole purpose. Though it is not explicitly explained in the play, Paulina wishes that they could, in the future, adopt a child (Dorfman 45) which may suggest she is unable to reproduce. If this is due to age or medical reasons, the analysis is limited to the family; Paulina being unable to have children limits her potential as the chauvinist ideal of a wife – Gerardo is already guilty of adultery and after this revelation, their relationship is particularly unstable. However, if Paulina’s inability to reproduce is due to the atrocities she faced, then it was the dictatorship that is responsible for her limitation. As the play is set in the family home yet contains highly political messages, it is likely that the home is a microcosm in contrast with Chilean society as the macrocosm. This being said, Paulina’s horrific past could be considered as a metaphor for the effects of the dictatorship. Paulina is damaged and unable to produce children, there are similarities here to Chile whose people were damaged and the commodities, although still able to be gathered, were coveted by America.

This leads to the final part of the theory and that is America’s desire for Chile’s natural resources. Just as Paulina’s body was desired by the torturers and rapists of the dictatorship, it was Chile’s copper, their most affluent resource (Carmagnani), that the US desired – among other metals and minerals. As has been said already in Historical Context, the US’ intervention was prevalent though was attempted to be kept secret. But the reason for this is that ‘Capitals invested in foreign trade can yield a higher rate of profits’ (Marx 443). The US enabled, and secretly supported the coup, and allowed the dictatorship because they wanted more control over Chile’s resources. It was the desire for capital that allowed the atrocities in Chile that even in post-dictatorship cannot be forgotten. The people of Chile were not heard, they were fed through a maze of justice systems and it is only when Paulina holds a gun in her hand that she gains a voice.

Carmagnani, Marcello A. Brittanica Encyclopedia: Chile. 11 March 2014. Web. 19 05 2014. <>.
Dorfman, Ariel. Death and the Maiden. London: Nick Hern Books, 1992. Print.
Engels, Frederick. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State. Trans. Alick West. Vol. III. Chippendale: Resistance, 2004. Print.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. "The German Ideology." Lodge, David and David Wood. Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. London: Pearson, 2008. 33-41. Print.
Marx, Karl. Capital: A New Abridgement. Trans. David McLellan. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.