Themes and Meanings

The Visit has been variously described as a tragicomedy, a political commentary on fascism or capitalism, a psychodrama, and “a modern presentation of the Passion Play,” among other interpretations. There is truth to all of these, especially in the stern German original (the American stage version, and more so the film version, are tempered and weakened). Dürrenmatt himself chose as his original subtitle “a comedy of the economic boom” (Eine Komodie der Hochkonjunktur). It was his intention to use all the above-mentioned thematic elements in conjunction in order to create a dramatic work, not a “theater as dissertation.” To him, the events of the twentieth century had removed naivete, and a tragicomedy best conveyed the message of the paradox of guilt and of community in the modern age.

In a simple society, such as Gullen was forty-five years earlier, justice was simple. Yet, even in that society, justice miscarried when Ill bribed two witnesses with a liter of schnapps. Ill was clearly guilty of an immoral act. Dürrenmatt shows that, as a society becomes more complex, the issue of guilt becomes less and less clear. In the modern world, who is guilty—the individual or society? Is guilt something that is merely a holdover from an earlier, more religious and moralistic age? Dürrenmatt asks the playgoer to contemplate the fate of a guilty person, for Ill is most assuredly guilty. Similarly, is not Claire guilty of revenge?...

(The entire section is 581 words.)