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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Andorra, by Swiss playwright Max Frisch, is a play arranged in twelve scenes. Frisch uses the format of epic theater to present scenarios (Bilder) to audiences as thought and discussion pieces.

A notable aspect of Andorra is how Frisch employs Verfremdungseffekt, a technique used to distance audiences from the characters and plot so that they focus on a play’s themes. Only the characters Andri and Barblin are referred to by names. The rest of the characters have names but are referred to by their archetype or title, such as the Teacher, Mother, Señora, the Soldier, the Idiot, etc. Themes Frisch presents in the play include prejudice, xenophobia, the struggle to know one’s true identity, and the use of lies to maintain an image.

Andri is a young man who lives in a fictionalized version of the remote Pyrenees nation with his parents, the Teacher and Mother, and his sister, Barblin. Told by the Teacher that he is Jewish and was adopted, Andri experiences anti-Semitism, the dishonesty of others, and persecution by townspeople and soldiers.

Here are some quotations to consider:

The play begins and ends with Barblin applying whitewash to the family home and wall around it. “Ich weissle das Haus meines Vaters,” she states, alerting the audience to the whitewashing effect of lies. The Soldier and the Priest then amplify Barblin’s statement with the line, “ein schneeweisses Andorra” (a snow white Andorra). Barblin performs this action on the eve of St. George’s Day, a holiday celebrating the saint who killed a dragon, again an image of purity and righteousness.

A conversation between the Solder and Andri as the Idiot looks on illustrates anti-Semitism and concepts of masculinity. The Soldier states “Ein Andorraner hat keine Angst!” (An Andorran has no fear) and accuses Andri of being a coward. When Andri demands to know why he’s a coward, the Soldier replies, “Weil du Jud bist” (because you’re a Jew). The Idiot doesn’t speak but simply grins and nods, signifying onlookers who find the suffering of others amusing and take no responsibility to help. When Andri asserts that he will marry Barblin, the Soldier then sings a bawdy tune that foreshadows his abuse of Barblin.

Andri’s attempts to find an occupation illustrate the prejudices of the community. He aspires to be a carpenter but his ambition is thwarted by the dishonesty of a co-worker and the anti-Semitism of his employer. The master carpenter tells him, “Tischler werden ist nicht einfach, wenn’s einer nicht im Blut hat” implying that Andri can’t become a carpenter because he doesn’t have the ability in his “blood” and then asks why he doesn’t go into sales, as Jews are supposedly good with money. The master carpenter notes that he could praise cedars from Lebanon “aber hierzuland wird in andorranischer Eiche gearbeitet,” that in Andorra, true carpenters grow up working with wood, especially that of the Andorran oak tree.

In the following scene, the Doctor underscores the Carpenter’s statements by insisting that carpentry is “ein andorranischer Beruf,” an Andorran occupation that Andri can’t participate in because he is Jewish. The carpenter’s statements and doctor’s support of them echo the Nazi propaganda concepts of “Blut und Boden” (blood and soil), the oak tree as a symbol of German identity, and how Nazi propaganda concepts were then turned into anti-Semitic policy and persecution of the Jews.

After the Teacher denies Andri’s request to marry Barblin, he goes to a pub for a drink and states, “ die Lüge ist ein...

(This entire section contains 934 words.)

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Egel, sie hat die Wahrheit ausgesaugt,” noting that a lie sucks out truth like a leech, admitting that he had lied to his son and that Andri is not Jewish after all. The Teacher had maintained this lie because it benefitted his image as a “Judenretter” a pious person who saved the persecuted.

In the seventh scene, Andri speaks with the Priest and admits that the prejudice he has experienced over the course of time has led to a feeling a self-hatred: “Ich versteh schon, dass niemand mich mag. Ich mag mich selbst nicht, wenn ich an mich selbst denke.” The Priest tells him to cherish his uniqueness by asserting Andri is more intelligent and aware than the others: “Du bist gescheiter als sie, glaub mir, du bist wacher.” The Priest wants Andri to wake up and connect with his inner, true identity. But Andri has become oppressed with the projections of others and struggles to accept himself.

When Andri is attacked by soldiers and his co-worker, the Señora confronts his attackers and then helps Andri. He insists to her that he isn’t a coward and she confronts the Teacher about his lies regarding Andri’s true origin, revealing she wrote to the Teacher several letters asking why he lied. The Teachers responds “Und wenn sie die Wahrheit nicht wollen?” indicating that often people prefer a lie to truth. In the following ninth scene, the Señora relates to a disbelieving Andri that the truth will judge his attackers and that “du bist der einzige hier, der die Wahrheit nicht zu fürchten braucht.” Andri has nothing to fear from the truth and if he accepts it, he could be freed from his torment.

With its Brechtian sensibility, Andorra provides much for an audience to consider over the themes of prejudice, the use of lies and hypocrisy to oppress and persecute, and the need for truth.

Further Reading:

Probst, Gerhard and Jay F. Bodine, eds. Perspectives on Max Frisch. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015