Incident at Vichy

by Arthur Miller

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Characters Discussed

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Leduc (leh-DEWK), a psychiatrist and former French artillery officer. He protests that Germans have no authority to make arrests in Unoccupied France when he and several others are separately taken into detention on suspicion of being Jews. He tries to organize an escape but is frustrated by the others’ apathy and by the German major’s show of force. Trained to doubt human rationality, he is persuaded that everyone looks for scapegoats to explain their flaws and pay for their weaknesses. Even Jews, he says, have their “Jews,” mistrusting anyone different from themselves. Leduc counsels each person to be honest with himself or herself, one’s true identity being more important than a life of safety based on deception. He accuses Von Berg of being relieved that someone else, not himself, will die, yet he accepts the prince’s pass to safety when it is offered.

Wilhelm Johann Von Berg

Wilhelm Johann Von Berg (VIHL-hehlm YOH-hahn fon behrk), an Austrian prince. He first questions if the other detainees are Jews, because, as a Catholic, he would be safe. Once he hid three musicians who were suspected, though he could not protect them long from the Nazis. Despite the fact that, as an aristocrat, he has been denouncing the Nazis for their vulgarity, gradually he admits that he knew that his cousin, a baron, was a Nazi. His forgetfulness has been an attempt to absolve himself from complicity. Goaded by Leduc’s appeal not to his guilt but to his sense of responsible action, he sacrifices himself by handing his pass to Leduc.


Major, a wounded regular German army officer, twenty-eight years old. As a combat professional, he finds his current assignment demeaning. He has turned cynical in a war that strikes him as absurd. Putting intelligence and decency aside, he now routinely follows Professor Hoffman’s orders.

Professor Hoffman

Professor Hoffman, an anthropologist who is an expert on the Racial Laws. He is in charge of measurements and determinations. He tries to prevent Leduc’s escape.


Lebeau (leh-BOH), a bearded, unkempt, twenty-five-year-old painter energized by fear. In 1939, he had already packed to leave for America, but his mother refused to leave their furniture behind. His premonitions make him among the most nervous in the group but also one of the most anxious to believe that the Nazis are only searching for spies or for workers in the coal mines.


Monceau (moh[n]-SOH), an actor dressed in frayed elegance. He suggests that they try not to look like victims but that each should create his own reality, just as roles are assumed in the theater. He refuses to believe that the Nazis have extermination ovens.


Bayard (bay-YAHR), a twenty-five-year-old socialist. He argues for solidarity now that these several strangers to one another have been detained together. He advises each to get a screwdriver to be used in opening boxcars from the inside if they are sent to Auschwitz.


Marchand (mahr-SHAH[N]), an impatient, well-dressed merchant. His nonchalance and his quick release confuse the others, because they are convinced that he also is a Jew.


Ferrand (feh-RAH[N]), a café proprietor who brings a repast to the authorities. He has tried before to warn the waiter to leave Vichy.





Old Jew in his seventies

Old Jew in his seventies, and

Boy age fifteen

Boy age fifteen, who all are aware that they are considered inferior types by the Nazis and therefore are expendable.


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Sources for Further Study

Bigsby, Christopher. Arthur Miller: A Critical Study . New York: Cambridge University Press,...

(This entire section contains 135 words.)

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Centola, Steve R., and Michelle Cirulli, eds. The Critical Response to Arthur Miller. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2006.

Gottfried, Martin. Arthur Miller: His Life and Work. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2004.

Gussow, Mel. Conversations with Miller. New York: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2002.

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