Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt is a play about corruption and the ambiguous nature of justice. The townspeople support each other before Claire Zachanassian's visit. The community is cooperative; together they decorate the town, paint signs, and offer the mayor advice on how to greet the millionaires. Instead of falling apart in the face of poverty, the town works together. They are hopeful that Alfred Ill, a popular pillar of the community who is next in line for the position of mayor, will secure a generous donation from his former lover.

Justice is not controlled by the government. Instead, Claire and Ill manipulate the community. Ill bribed false witnesses to defeat Claire in a paternity suit, while Claire uses her wealth to acquire the former magistrate of Güllen. Claire turns the magistrate into her butler, symbolically making the law subservient. With money comes power. Claire demands revenge because of her belief that she is righteous. Claire and Ill both pervert the idea of justice.

The other significant theme develops after Claire announces her stipulation. Greed corrupts Güllen gradually. At first, the unified town rejects her demand, but over time, people sink into debt and vilify Ill. He loses support from institutions such as the police, the government, and the clergy. The town turns on Ill for crimes that they would never care about if not for Claire and her money. The people of Güllen kill Ill as a group to share the guilt. The themes of justice and greed explore how there is not a definitive reference for who should be punished, and to what extent. The deciding factor is wealth, not a system of law, religion, or higher morality. In Dürrenmatt's play, justice is complicated and motivated by greed.

Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Visit is essentially a philosophical inquiry into the nature of morality in the form of a narrative. The anti-hero, Claire Zachanassian comes back to her old hometown with the sole purpose of exacting revenge on her ex-lover and the townspeople themselves. Claire is the personification of vengeance, especially its most extreme form.

Another example of the morality theme in the play is the action of the townspeople against the ex-lover. They each take turns participating in his murder as a way to suppress their individual guilt via collective guilt. If they are all complicit in murder, then not a single citizen will have the right to claim high moral ground.This is an allegory for various genocides throughout the 20th century and particularly for how ordinary citizens can collectively participate in human rights crimes.

Another theme of the story is greed. The townspeople were so desperate for money that they eventually took up Claire's offer to kill her ex-lover, one of their own citizens, in exchange for a princely sum.

Claire herself personifies greed. She married wealthy tycoons to climb the socioeconomic ladder, and she uses currency to manipulate and command people. The society portrayed in the play is one that is depraved and values capital over humanity and morality. This theme of greed is an allegory for an impoverished nation's desperation, which is reminiscent of Germany's economic depression after their defeat in World War I. This contributed to the rise of the hateful Nazi Party and the persecution of Jews.

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