Institutionalized Violence and Oppression: Ambiguity, Complicity and Resistance in El Campo and The Conduct of Life


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Argentinian playwright Griselda Gambaro's El Campo, written in 1967 and first performed in 1968, is a play that portrays institutionalized violence through ambiguity, double meanings, duplicity, lies, and lack of reference.1 Upon his arrival to what he presumes to be a new job as an accountant, the main character Martín will slowly realize that, instead, he is a prisoner in a concentration camp. What happens on stage and what the victims experience is never explicit, so both the protagonist and the audience are confronted with the visible, physical consequences of such violence combined with the psychological terror induced by lack of definition, vagueness, and ignorance. Oppression deprives the victims and the audience of any sense of comprehension and renders them powerless.

The Conduct of Life premiered almost twenty years later, in 1985. Cuban American Maria Irene Fornes set the scene in "A Latin American country. The present."2 The general, diffuse reference to place and time does not incorporate more specific details other than the performance space: the house of Orlando, an army lieutenant that will soon be a commander. He participates in tortures and abuse not only as part of his professional duties but also privately, at home, where he keeps Nena, a twelve-year-old destitute girl he has kidnapped. Here, the victimizer sadistically replicates the institutional abuse in the personal domain. Other characters in the household, namely his wife Leticia, are at first unaware of the existence of Nena although her complicity plays a role in the sustained abuse of the victim.


1. Griselda Gambaro, "El Campo," Teatro argentino contemporáneo: antología, (Madrid: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1992), 231–90. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine, and all subsequent references to this play are cited by page number in the text.

2. Maria Irene Fornes, "The Conduct of Life," Plays, (New York City: PAJ Publications, 1986), 65-88 (66). All subsequent references to this play are cited by page number in the text.

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