Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The banner of hypocrisy unfurls itself slowly throughout the course of Frisch's play. Most obviously, hypocrisy is evident in the townspeople, who begin the play portrayed as virtuous and pious yet begin to exhibit more and more of the vices that (ironically enough) they had ascribed to Andri and to the Jewish people in general. Prater the carpenter exhibits "Jewish" deception in the incident with the chair, while Fetri exhibits "Jewish" cowardliness for not standing up to his boss. The inn-keeper meanwhile exhibits "Jewish" spite in his falsification of evidence against Andri—close to the play's conclusion.
Hypocrisy is also observable in the character of Can the teacher, who—like the townspeople—started out with lofty aims; as a young teacher he sought to enlighten his students as well as educate them. Given his youthful obsessions with "The Truth," it is especially hypocritical that he then neglects to tell his son the truth of his parentage, even up until his death.
Humanity as Incapable of Change
The majority of Frisch's characters do not recover from the moral decline he sets them on from the play's opening scene. The refusal of the townspeople to admit any degree of guilt, even under occupation by "The Nation of Blacks," reflects Frisch's view that humanity's depravity is a failing that can never be redressed. Interestingly, the priest is the character who does see the error of his ways (and those of his society), with the implication being that a degree of spirituality is required to see beyond the cage of common humanity.
Some critics have seen in this play an allegory for the German people during the war. However, it is notable that Frisch, in his stage directions, gives clear instructions that uniforms and other props are to be non-specific to any nation or historical period. His intent seems to have been to convey a human—rather than a regional—failing.
This play portrays two contrary journeys toward identity. On the one hand, the townspeople slip further and further away from the identity they believe is their own: that of a close-knit and virtuous community. On the other hand, Andri proceeds (partially against his will and partially due to his desire for acceptance) toward the identity of "Jew" that the townspeople have foisted on him. The specter of his true identity hovers just out of his reach. Twice the priest tries to introduce him to it, but the long years of prejudice the young man has suffered makes it impossible for him to grasp it fully.