Discuss the cultural context of The Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One cultural context of Dürrenmatt's play is his embrace of the theatre of the grotesque.  Dürrenmatt's artistic focus exists in this context.  He used his theatre to pose questions about issues that he felt were critically important in modern cultural contexts.  The Visit is centered on the role of money and economics on human development and social advancement.  Growing up in the shadow of dictatorship and its impact on human choices, Dürrenmatt applies this same paradigm to the role of money and economic development. It is in this regard where the play's context is “a modern presentation of the Passion Play."  The cultural context of advancement and material desire on individual choices occupies central importance in the drama.  The use of theatre to examine social choices and individual behavior is one specific cultural context of Dürrenmatt's drama.

In a larger sense, The Visit examines the cultural context of Europe in a Post World War II setting.  The play's subtitle reflects this as “a comedy of the economic boom."  This helps to establish another clear cultural context within the drama. The structures that used to define individual choice such as fascism and political conformity met their end with the Allied forces. The resulting landscape was one of rebuilding the nation state through economics and commercialism.  It is in this cultural context where Dürrenmatt's drama takes place.  

This context is one that poses central questions about individual choices and social progression.  For example, the denial of justice through graft and bribery helps to establish the condition in which justice is later denied through monetary and commercial influences.  Externalities both in justice and morality create a condition where everyone is guilty.  Ill is guilty for his initial targeting of Claire and his degrading of her through the legal system.  For her part, Claire is guilty of exacting vengeance and, essentially, turning the world into a brothel where everyone has a price.  The townspeople of Gullen are guilty because of their willingness to embrace commercialism and profit at the cost of a human being.  

Such issues form the drama's context, and it is reflective of the German condition that followed World War II.  The drama examines the implications of social progression and individual choice when it is placed in the context of materialism, conformity, and individual success. The definition of advancement, progress, as well as what defines individuality on social and cultural levels become the context through which the drama can be viewed. Such a context is evident when the town, confronted with the reality of Claire's choice, begins to purchase everything on credit, convinced that the "buy now, pay later" approach is socially sanctioned and individually acceptable.  This encompassing cultural context of materialism and profit is reflective of the drama's thematic relevance.  It is also reflective of the cultural context that governs progression and advancement of all societies an the individuals within it.

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