Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 364
Andorra is a play primarily about prejudice. The play centers around Andri, a supposedly Jewish orphan adopted into a beautiful, idyllic Andorran town. The people of Andorra, however, cannot get past their stereotypical view of Jewish people, and throughout the play, they are revealed to disdain and mistrust Andri for his supposed heritage. For example, when Andri’s father tries to get him apprenticed to a cabinetmaker, the cabinetmaker is reluctant because he thinks that Andri would make a better salesman. He proves himself right by immediately destroying Andri’s woodwork and criticizing its poor craftsmanship—even though the chair had been made by another apprentice (who does not intervene). Other characters insult Andri and even hurt him, such as the soldier, a rival for Andri’s romantic interest who trips him early in the play and later assaults him.
Thus, even when Andri is told repeatedly that he is not, in fact, Jewish, the lifelong mistreatment based upon that heritage leads him to adopt and embrace a Jewish identity anyway. Ultimately, the town’s prejudices, combined with miscommunications and omissions, lead to Andri’s death, as he is executed for a crime that he did not commit. Throughout the play, the action is broken by testimonies from many of the characters on a “witness stand” discussing Andri’s execution; even though many of them clearly contributed to his death, only one character, the priest of the town, acknowledges and admits his guilt.
Though the author of the play, Max Frisch, intended for the play to be about prejudices in general. His focus on antisemitism and the context of the play specifically associate it with post–World War II literature. Frisch, a Swiss author, wrote and published the play in the late 1940s, when the scars from World War II were still quite fresh in Europe. Many audience members may have even remembered how supposedly good people turned against each other during the war and how minorities became scapegoats in a time of fear and anger. It is thus easy to see why Frisch would make his main character suffer from negative Jewish stereotypes, as this would resonate most profoundly with a European audience.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1422
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, Andri assumes that his stepfather considers his own daughter too good for a Jew.
Next, the audience finds Andri sleeping on the threshold outside Barblin’s room. A large shadow appears on the wall—it is Peider, who enters Barblin’s darkened room. She tries to scream, but he silences her and bolts the door behind them. Unaware of what has happened, Andri awakes and begins to speak through the door to his beloved. He is a changed man. He has come to hate Andorra and is saving money so that he and Barblin can leave. Andri’s monologue is interrupted briefly by his father, returning from the inn. He tries to tell Andri the truth about his origin but finds Andri either unwilling or unable to understand. Sensing rejection and contempt, he leaves while Andri resumes his speeches to Barblin. He listens at the door, becomes suspicious, and tries to break it open. At this moment the door opens, revealing Peider, barefoot, belt unbuckled, and naked to the waist.
At the urging of his mother, who is worried about her son, Father Benedict has asked Andri to visit him at the sacristy. There Andri asks the question that has been weighing on his mind for some time: He wants to know once and for all whether he is different from the others. The priest confesses that he has been watching him for years and has come to the conclusion that Andri is in fact different. Although he professes to like Andri precisely because he is different, he advises him to give up trying to be an Andorran and to accept himself as a Jew, or else he will be considered a coward.
As the political situation grows more tense, with troops already massed at the border, the Señora arrives. Having heard from an Andorran peddler the story of a teacher who had saved a Jewish boy and cared for him as if he were his own, she suspects that it might be her son. The audience learns that the teacher and the Señora used to have high hopes for a different world. When the Señora became pregnant, however, she was afraid of her people, the Blacks. Can, scorning her for her cowardice, took the boy with him but decided to pass him off as a Jew; Andorrans were to have nothing to do with women from across the border, so it was easier, at that time, to have a Jewish child. His stunned wife now realizes that Can betrayed them all, but Andri most of all.
On the square, harassed by Peider and his soldier friends, Andri decides to fight back. Surprised, they close in on him and kick him, until the Señora comes to his rescue. The priest finally tells Andri the full truth about his origins, but Andri refuses to accept it. “How many truths have you got?” he asks cynically. Now he identifies with his Jewish heritage and in turn challenges the priest: “I have accepted it. Now it’s up to you, Father, to accept your Jew.” In the meantime, the Señora is killed by a stone, and Andri is immediately blamed for the murder. The priest, though he can prove that Andri is innocent, remains silent.
At the beginning of scene 10, Andri sits alone in the empty square. The Blacks have arrived, Andorra has surrendered, and black flags are hoisted to welcome the invaders. The town is quiet, except for the rumbling of a loudspeaker and the sound of rifles being thrown into a pile. Andri is joined by his father, the last Andorran still carrying a rifle. Can pleads with Andri to accept him as his father, to no avail: Andri is prepared to die. Soon, troops surround the teacher’s home; Barblin tries to hide her brother in her room, but he is soon detected, bound, and led away.
In the last scene, the square is surrounded by soldiers in black uniforms. One by one, hooded and barefoot, the Andorrans walk across the square. When it is Andri’s turn, the Jew Detector identifies him as a Jew by his walk, feet, and laughter. Barblin and her parents make one last desperate but unsuccessful attempt to help him. After Andri has been led away to be executed, the Andorrans, relieved, leave to drink brandy. The stage grows dark, and the jukebox begins playing. When the stage lights up again, Barblin, her head shaved, is seen on her knees whitewashing the cobblestones of the square. She has lost her senses, her father has hanged himself in the schoolroom, and the priest is praying for Andri’s soul.
Between the scenes, some of the townspeople (the innkeeper, the carpenter, Fedri, Peider, Father Benedict, the anonymous “Somebody,” and the doctor) appear in a witness box on the forestage before an unspecified tribunal to comment on the events surrounding Andri’s death. With the exception of Father Benedict, they all proclaim their innocence and goodwill.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 339
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.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 109
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.