The Visit begins at the train station in Gullen, a shabby and impoverished town somewhere in Central Europe. As trains speed by, the townspeople recall happier days, when trains stopped and celebrities visited. They are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Claire Zachanassian, a local girl who left the town forty-five years earlier as the penniless Clara Wascher and who has since become fabulously wealthy. The townspeople hope that, as have other places and charities, Gullen will be the recipient of Claire’s philanthropy. With the help of Alfred Ill, the only person who remembers her (for he had been her lover), the town is preparing a festive welcoming home for what they hope is their salvation.
Suddenly, an express train screeches to a halt, and Madame Zachanassian descends upon the town. Claire has pulled the train’s emergency cord, and she, after imperiously bribing the conductor to overlook her action, summarily dismisses the train and its many reporters. She looks over the faces of the greeting townspeople but does not recognize Ill, who, like she, has grown old and ugly. He calls to her, and they speak of earlier days when she called him her black panther. The town’s hastily devised reception is presented, to the amusement of Claire, who makes bizarre and grotesque comments to the assemblage. She is then carried off in a sedan chair by two large bodyguards whom she identifies as condemned American criminals whom she has purchased. She is accompanied by her eighty-year-old butler, two blind, castrated old men, a black panther, and a coffin.
As she leaves, the townspeople again marvel at her wealth. They are confident that Ill will be able to win a substantial grant from the woman for them. He will most assuredly be their next mayor. The scene shifts to the forest of Konradsweil (four Gulleners symbolically portray the forest), where Alfred and Claire reminisce about a long-ago love. Claire tells Ill of the method of her success, that a millionaire fell in love with her when she was in a whorehouse in Hamburg. He was killed in a plane crash, but she had survived, for she was indestructible. She then promises Ill that she intends to offer the town millions of marks, which will bring prosperity to it again.
The scene changes to a festive banquet where Claire makes her announcement. She is prepared to offer the town a gift of 500 million marks, with an additional 500 million marks to be divided among the townspeople. There is a condition: She wants justice. She then tells her story. She presents her butler, who introduces himself as the former magistrate of Gullen. He had once tried a bastardy case wherein Alfred Ill had been accused of fathering the child of Clara Wascher. Ill had produced two witnesses who swore that they, too, had slept with Clara and that it was impossible for her to say who the father was. Claire then introduces her castrati, who identify themselves first as those witnesses and second as perjurers.
Claire continues her story, describing the poor, pregnant...
(The entire section is 1239 words.)