The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In the opening scene of Andorra, Barblin is whitewashing her father’s house in preparation for Saint George’s Day. Interrupted by an Andorran soldier who is attracted to her, she tries to ward him off by announcing that she is engaged. Father Benedict enters, and the conversation that ensues among the soldier, the priest, and Barblin reveals that an invasion by the anti-Semitic Blacks from across the border is imminent.

Next, the square of Andorra is seen. The carpenter and Can, the teacher, sitting outside the inn, haggle over the fee for an apprenticeship for the teacher’s foster son Andri, thought to be a Jew saved by the teacher from the Blacks. The carpenter, sensing Andri’s keen interest in carpentry and the teacher’s anxiety about finding a suitable position for his son, demands an exorbitant sum and suggests that Andri become a stockbroker, something that is, after all, “in his blood.” The teacher, determined to scrape together the money Andri needs, is joined by the innkeeper, who proceeds to exploit Can’s predicament by offering to buy his land.

During most of scene 1, the kitchen boy Andri is seen feeding his tips into the jukebox located on the forestage. A carefree youth, he is exuberant about his secret engagement to Barblin and the prospect of becoming a carpenter. Soon thereafter, however, the soldier Peider brags about his own bravery, trips Andri, and calls him a cowardly Jew.

Scene 2 takes place on the threshold outside Barblin’s room. Her fiancé Andri wonders aloud whether it is true that he is different from everyone else. He feels no different but is accused of having no feelings and of being lecherous, greedy, and cowardly. In the next scene, Andri and Fedri, another carpentry apprentice, are in the carpenter’s shop, each with a finished chair. The carpenter, intent upon finding fault with Andri’s workmanship, pulls all four legs out of Fedri’s chair, throws the debris at Andri’s feet, and chastises him for his alleged failure to mortise his first chair, knowing all the while that it is Fedri’s chair he is destroying. Fedri watches silently as Andri is given a new job, supposedly more suitable for a Jew: that of a salesman.

Shortly thereafter, Andri learns from the doctor that Can, his father, now a heavy-drinking cynic, was once a young man with high ideals. Nicknamed the Bull, he was known to tear up schoolbooks that contained lies. The doctor, well-traveled but a failure in his profession, launches into a vicious, bitter attack on the Jews of the world, ignorant of Andri’s Jewish identity. Wherever he went, he laments, he found Jews already there, occupying all the university chairs. Informed that Andri is a Jew, he quickly adds: “I was joking—of course, they can’t take a joke. . . . Did anyone ever meet a Jew who could take a joke?”

At dinner, Andri reveals that Barblin and he have loved each other ever since they were children and have resolved to get married. Believing that they were brother and sister, they had contemplated poisoning themselves, until their mother assured them that Andri was adopted. Can, faced with the prospect of incest caused by his own duplicity, “rises like a prisoner upon whom sentence has been passed,” immediately and emphatically rejects Andri as a suitor, without giving any reason, and leaves the room to find solace in the inn. Barblin runs off, threatening to kill herself, her mother suspects that Can is jealous,...

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Andorra Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The use of two different time frames is perhaps the most important structural device in Andorra. Max Frisch links the past and the present by juxtaposing scenes relating past events and short scenes at the witness stand that reveal the characters’ present thoughts about these events. This alienation technique is reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht’s anti-illusionary epic theater, where the audience is prevented from identifying too closely with the characters onstage and is forced instead to reflect upon the action presented, though Frisch did not seem to share Brecht’s optimism concerning humankind’s ability to learn. As is typical in Brecht’s plays, the majority of Frisch’s characters are types representing a cross section of society. Only the family members are more fully developed.

Frisch used a number of recurring images very effectively to prepare the audience for the impending tragedy. The play is framed, for example, by the two scenes in which Barblin is whitewashing. This device underscores the duplicity and incorrigibility of the Andorrans and accents the circularity of the play. Peider comments, however, that the white paint merely covers up the normally red soil of Andorra; if there is a cloudburst, it washes off, leaving “a mess like a pig had been slaughtered on it.” Other vivid images that point to the tragic outcome include the violent thunderstorm that is said to be in the air and the stake and rope on the square which only the father seems to notice.

Andorra is a very tightly structured play that exhibits some of the features of the analytical drama, in that the crucial events leading up to the catastrophe have occurred long before the beginning of the play and are revealed only gradually to the audience. Since it is clear from the outset that Andri’s death has occurred and was inevitable, the central question is not so much what happened as why it happened. Frisch shows very clearly the causes and effects of prejudice and its destructiveness for both its victims and its perpetrators.

Andorra Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Butler, Michael. The Plays of Max Frisch. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.

Esslin, Martin. “Max Frisch.” In German Men of Letters, edited by Alex Natan. London: O. Wolff, 1968.

Lüthi, Hans Jurg. Max Frisch. Munich: Francke, 1981.

Pickar, Gertrud B. The Dramatic Works of Max Frisch. Las Vegas: Peter Lang, 1977.

Probst, Gerhard F., and Jay F. Bodine, eds. Perspectives on Max Frisch. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1982.

Weber, Bruce. “Visit to a Fictional Land Unmasks Bigotry’s Fearsome Face.” New York Times, April, 16, 2002, p. ER5

Weisstein, Ulrich. Max Frisch. New York: Twayne, 1967.

White, Alfred D. Max Frisch: The Reluctant Modernist. Lewistown, New York: Edward Mellen, 1995.