Conformity and Convenience in Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit Essays

Conformity and Convenience in Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit Essays

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Friedrich Durrenmatt’s epic tragicomedy The Visit is a haunting commentary on the nature of mankind and morality. Bringing to the surface many questions about the difference between justice and revenge, the play is constructed in a way that leaves the reader at once perplexed and conflicted. The difference between right and wrong is often overlooked and even contorted in order to conform with convenience as the citizens of the town become more desperate. The Visit is both a philosophical masterpiece and a harrowing tale of conditional morality.

From the very first mention of the millionairess Claire Zachanassian, the reader is barraged with philosophical questions about the difference between right and wrong. Ill shares stories about Claire’s past which immediately foreshadow her perverted sense of morality and justice. For instance, he tells the mayor that:

”Clara loved justice. Most decidedly. Once when they took a beggar away she flung stones at the police. . .She stole potatoes once for an old widow (Durrenmatt 15).”

The town exalts her for her generosity and self-less behavior. Already, you begin to see the citizens of Guellen overlooking her immorality because it is convenient for them to do so, as she has the ability to help them recover from their state of financial distress.

Upon hearing the proposition made by Claire Zachanassian, a million dollars in exchange for the murder of Alfred Ill, the town immediately reacts with disgust. The Mayor argues:

”You forget, we are not savages. In the name of all citizens of Guellen, I reject your offer; and I reject it in the name of humanity. We would rather have poverty than blood on our hands (Durrenmatt 39).”

The Mayor refuses to accept the offer made by Madame ...


... middle of paper ...


...ty, good living, and luxury: we are moved by this matter of justice, and the problem of how to apply it.”

Finally, we see the town conclusively turning their back on Ill, reversing their initial decision for one more suited to settle their problem; though, in order to grapple with what they’ve done, the town convinces themselves that they have done it for reasons of altruism so that their contorted sense of morality is justified. While the town had every intention of remaining humane originally, the escalation of poverty in the town, coupled with people’s willingness to overlook this, resulted in the inevitable murder of Alfred Ill. As the play ends, the viewer is left with a haunting picture of the members of Guellen standing together in a chorus, making one last justification for what they have done, conforming their morals to the mold of their convenience.


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