Max Frisch was a versatile writer whose reputation stemmed from both his dramas and his novels. He also wrote diaries, radio plays, short stories, film scenarios, and essays. His essays include discussions of literature, drama, society, architecture, town planning, and travel. A six-volume German edition of his works up to 1976 was published by Suhrkamp in Frankfurt, and an English-language collection titled Novels, Plays, Essays was published in 1989.
Frisch’s drama and his fiction are closely related thematically. In most of his plays, the quest for identity is the central theme. In his work, Frisch is critical of the roles that people adopt for themselves or have imposed on them by others because role-playing prevents people from growing and realizing their potential as human beings. This concern of Frisch’s is particularly evident in the plays Andorra (pr., pb. 1961; English translation, 1963) and Don Juan: Oder, Die Liebe zur Geometrie (pr., pb. 1953; Don Juan: Or, The Love of Geometry, 1967). As in his fiction, Frisch shows in his theater pieces how difficult it is to escape from such roles: However hard hisprotagonists try, they fail in their attempts to escape because the social restrictions they face are so overwhelming.
Frisch believed that dramatists have a responsibility to address social and political questions; although he was skeptical that the theater can bring about social change, he asserted that it can at least make people more aware. Although most of his plays focus on personal questions, some directly address such social problems as anti-Semitism and prejudice (Andorra) and the moral weakness of the middle class (Biedermann und die Brandstifter, pr., pb. 1958; The Firebugs, 1959; also known as The Fire Raisers, 1962). In both his plays and his novels, Frisch sharply criticizes modern society for its hypocrisy, its smugness, and its superficiality—but most of all for the limits it places on the individual.