(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Claire Wascher leaves Güllen in disgrace forty-five years before the action begins. Now rich, she announces her intention to return to her impoverished native town. The townspeople, who hope that she might wish to help them out of the poverty they have endured for years, await her return with considerable anticipation. They hope that Claire’s emotional tie to Alfred Ill, her former lover, will induce her to be financially generous to her former town; Alfred Ill knows that if she makes the expected gift he will be a sure victor in the next mayoral contest. As the townspeople, who serve the function the chorus does in classical Greek plays, await Claire’s arrival, they are a model of community cohesiveness and congeniality. Poor as they are, they are united by the seemingly indestructible bonds that traditionally hold tightly knit communities together.

Claire arrives amid much celebration. She greets the townspeople and Alfred Ill, amused by their transparent cordiality. At a festive banquet she makes it clear that they are correct in their assumption: She is prepared to give the town a gift of 500 million marks. As with most large gifts, however, this one carries a stipulation.

Claire left Güllen forty-five years earlier after naming Alfred Ill in a paternity suit; he denied responsibility for her pregnancy and prevailed by bribing two witnesses to give false evidence. Claire was driven out of Güllen by its upstanding, self-righteous citizens, and after she left, Alfred Ill married a well-to-do woman who set him up in a business. Claire went to Hamburg, where she was forced to become...

(The entire section is 660 words.)