When Friedrich Durrenmatt wrote the play The Visit, he was doing so in response to what he saw as appalling neutrality on the part of the Swiss during World War II, neutrality that we now know was something more insidious. This powerful play expresses what happens in a community where responsibility is abdicated and scapegoating is employed, what happens when mercy falls to vengeance in the name of justice. It is a play designed to shock society into recognizing its own flaws and choosing a different course of action, a different way to be. Today I would like to briefly describe how this play and its connections help my students comprehend both the wider world (in place and time) and their own world, how literature can speak powerfully to correct social ills. Finally, I wish show how this play helps students recognize how communities are constructed and how each individual has a responsibility to serve the communities of which they are a part.
In Principia, our first-year introductory course to the liberal arts, we attempt to select texts that help students examine perennial human issues, texts that help students realize that their present and their future is not disconnected from the past. Durrenmatt's play raises three perennial issues that connect us historically to three specific contexts. The issues are: a human desire for justice, a human penchant for scapegoating, and the human conflict between selfish individuality and communal responsibility. The historical contexts are classical Greece, World War II Switzerland, and the 1950s success of capitalism.
Durrenmatt illustrates the human desire...
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...atic and structural contexts, leads students to reflect on their own values, their own roles as responsible members of communities. This play gets to core values and works as a contemporary classic; it deals with perennial human issues and provokes students to thoughtful action.
Aescyhlus. Oresteia. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.
Durrenmatt, Friedrich. The Visit. Trans. Patrick Bowles. New York: Grove, 1990.
Flaumenhaft, Mera J. The Civic Spectacle: Essays on Drama and Community. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994.
Lattimore, Richmond. "Introduction." Oresteia. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.
Loewy, Erich H. Freedom and Community: The Ethics of Interdependence. Albany: State University of New York, 1993.
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