In The Visit, Friedrich Dürrenmatt poses the basic question of what inroads money, or the promise of it, makes upon the morality of people who are not inherently bad. The citizens of Güllen are average, with average strengths, weaknesses, and foibles. Claire has early been made aware of the consequences of greed, since Alfred Ill’s two bribes determined the outcome of her paternity suit.
On the surface, The Visit is a play about vengeance, but beyond that it is a tragicomedy that explores human motivation and morality. In the play, Dürrenmatt examines the dark underside of a community unified in its poverty that disintegrates with the prospect of riches. Claire’s plan of vengeance is not only directed against the man who had dishonored her but against the community that also defined her disgrace.
Dürrenmatt’s sparing use of names helps his audience realize that the community is an aggregation of types rather than individuals. Only Claire and Alfred Ill emerge as individuals. The rest of the townspeople act as a chorus and come to represent the collective ideals of the community. Among those who are identified by occupation rather than number, the priest, the schoolmaster, the police officer, and the physician come in for particularly harsh treatment. They are respected members of the community who should fight to uphold its highest ideals but do not.
As is typical in Dürrenmatt’s works, the antihero,...
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