In this assignment, I choose to look at the themes that I thought come out strongly in “The Visit.” I researched online journals and book reviews about the author and the book’s setting.
The setting of the book is in the town of Güllen, a fictitious town in Switzerland. Güllen means “liquid manure.” The residents of this town live from hand to mouth facing desperate times. Unemployment is rife and people will do anything to survive. There is economic depression and many of the towns industries have been closed down.
A past resident of Güllen, Claire Zachanassian makes a return visit to the town. Claire has inherited the estate of her husband upon his death. Claire’s husband was until his death the richest man in the world with interests in oil companies, broadcasting houses, railways and brothels in Hong Kong.
Her anticipated visit to Güllen raises hope that through her investments, the people will have an improved status economically. Alfred Ill, a man she had an affair with, is appointed to try and
appeal to her charisma. The affair was a secret one and led to Claire conceiving Ill’s child. This led her to be banished from the town. Alfred is now married. He manages a store in Güllen.
Claire arrives in pomp and style. With her is a butler, a pet black panther, blind eunuchs and a coffin. However, Claire is coming back to visit Güllen with a totally different intention. She wants to take vengeance on her one time lover. She wants to seek justice for what she feels were unjust actions towards her. What follows is a drama interwoven with comedy and tragedy.
Can one buy justice? At the height of Ill’s affair with Claire justice may have been done when he presented witnesses to testify falsely at the suit filed by Claire. She was seeking to be redeemed for the child Ill had fathered. Thus Ill is said to have bought justice against Claire. This led her to be exiled from town. Upon her departure, she was forced to lead a life of prostitution and seduction in order to make ends meet.
Claire has bought justice on several occasions. Boby, her butler, was a judge in Güllen. Through Claire’s coercion he left the legal profession to be at her service. He was offered a salary package higher than what he would normally make as a judge. In the same breadth Claire rescued Toby and Roby from the electric chair. The two were notorious gangsters. They were found guilty and a death sentence passed on them. By offering bribes Claire has always had things going her way.
Upon her visit to Güllen, Claire seeks to buy justice once more. She offers the townsfolk money for the death of Ill. According to Claire, this is going to be a sweet revenge for what Albert Ill put her through. This is another example of justice being bought. The police and other institutions with the responsibility to uphold justice all become accomplices in Claire’s attempt at procuring justice.
What are the conclusions on the theme of justice? Friedrich Dürrenmatt has managed to bring out justice as a strong theme by highlighting:
- That corruption was rampant in the American justice system
- That with money and wealth comes influence
- That justice can be bought and has been bought
Preamble to the theme of the rule of law: Every society is governed by “rule of law.” The doctrine stipulates that the law must be followed to the letter. Justice must be applied equitably to all regardless of a person’s social status. The rule of law is administered through public institutions established for this purpose. All citizens must abide to the laws governing the region where they live. Suitable punishment must be meted out to all who break the law.
How is it portrayed? Claire’s arrival in Güllen was supposed to bring an economic reprieve to this impoverished town. Instead she imposes her own “rule of law” by forcing townsfolk to bow to her whims. Her principle desire is to seek vengeance against anyone who wronged her in the past. In Act I, we learn that capital punishment is nonexistent.
Claire’s monetary gift comes with a condition. The people of Güllen must apply capital punishment by killing Ill. That the people keep her decree a secret exposes their willingness to go to the extreme demands as stipulated by Claire. Her self-imposed “rule of law” is equated to extra judicial proceedings against the citizenry. Justice cannot be said to have been done since there is no accountability.
Conclusions: The following conclusions can be drawn:-
- By manipulating the people and the institutions of justice, a parallel rule of law is created.
- Claire’s search for justice was overshadowed by her strong desire for vengeance
In looking at these two themes, it is evident that the people of Güllen cannot be fully blamed for easily falling into Claire’s schemes. Scenes such as these are evident in many societies today where the moral fabric has collapsed. Claire manages to ruin Güllen by poisoning the people’s minds. She went out of her way to destroy Ill.
The inhabitants of Güllen are consumed by greed as a result of the circumstances they are in. The promise of material wealth is so tempting. A desperate person will sacrifice anything just to get a means of survival.
One question that Friedrich Dürrenmatt leaves a reader with is, what your reaction would have been were you in similar circumstances. “The Visit” pricks the reader’s conscience in the event of the dilemma faced by Güllen’s townsfolk.