The Corrupt Humanity in ‘The Visit’


The Corrupt Humanity in ‘TheVisit’

The Corrupt Humanity inDurrenmatt’s ‘The Visit’

The Visit is a tragicomic playwritten by Swiss playwright, Friedrich Durrenmatt in 1956. The playtalks about an old lady Claire Zachanassian’s homecoming to hernative town of Gullen (Price, 2001). In this homecoming, she promisesto give a grant to the ailing town with a condition that herchildhood lover be killed. The town ultimately receives the grantafter killing Ill, which is the center of the plot. The arrival ofthe woman Claire Zachanassian had totally changed the life of thetown people. Durrenmatt has put forward a number of themes to showthe major contextual and cultural contexts of the society. Throughhis emphasis on the corrupt nature of humanity, Dürrenmatt presentsgreed and deception as the main themes that lead people to corruptionin the society.

Through his emphasis on the corrupt nature of humanity, Dürrenmattconveys the point that corruptionis persistent in the society because people are corrupted by powerand wealth. Dürrenmatt conveys this point by illustrating howcharacters are corrupted by thegreed for wealth and power. Ill buys his justice during the paternitycase by presenting false witnesses and bribing the judge at Claire’sexpense. Claire is also corrupt as seen in many instances. She offersa lot of money to people in order to buy them out. She publiclyacclaims her corrupt tendency when she says, “I wish to buy myjustice… A million for Gullen if someone kills Alfred Ill”(Price, 2001). She offers Bobby alot of money in salary to make him a personal butler.

She also buys the freedom of theAmerican gangsters Roby and Toby by paying off the justice enforcerswho agreed to remove them from the electric chair they were condemnedto. The political class and the law enforcers are also corrupt. Themayor and the police desire for the Claire’s money make themcomplicit in her scheme to kill Ill. The town’s people have alsobeen corrupted morally by giving in to Claire’s condition ofkilling Ill for the money she was promising them.

Durrenmattuses these various characters to confirm the denial of justice viagraft and bribery in modern society. He poses central questionsregarding person’s choices and social progression. Money and powerhas eroded the moral concept of the society. Durrenmatt confirms thatas the society becomes complex, the issue of law and order becomescomplicated too. Guilt concept becomes more vague and unclear. Heshows that the definition of guilty in modern world is hard.Ultimately, Durrenmatt emphasizes on externalities in justice andmorality that create a scenario where everyone is guilty. Thesociety is ultimately blamed for embracing these corrupt tendenciesat the expense of law and order. Ill, for instance, is guilty for hisoriginal targeting of Claire and his degrading of her using corruptmeans through the town’s legal system. Claire, on the other hand,is guilty of vengeance and transforming the world into a place whereeveryone has a price tag. The townsfolk are guilty of embracingcommercialism and profit at the cost of a human life (Price, 2001).

Corruption, greed and deception fitin the contextual and cultural concerns of the play, which are therole of money and economics in the social and economic advancement ofthe society (Price, 2001). Through these themes we can see that moneyhas corrupted most of the social, economic and political pillars ofthe society. Social advancement and desires occupy a central commandin the play. Money has turned many people greedy, deceitful andcorrupt with the aim of advancing their lifestyles and desires.Claire’s money has eroded all the morals in people, both in highand low social stratification.

Through his emphasis on the corrupt nature of human beings,Dürrenmatt presents greed as atheme through characters like Ill, Claire and the town people.Durrenmatt choice of characters and his focus on the grotesquetheatre to expound on the theme of greed is well orchestrated. Heposes questions which he deemed necessary in the modern society andits cultural contexts. He centers greed theme on the role of moneyand economy in human and social advancement. Having grown up in thesame setting of dictatorship, as confirmed by Germans during theWorld War 2, Durrenmatt wants to show how the grotesque of greed andmoney economy shapes the lives of people and society (Price, 2001).

The cultural context of socialadvancement and materialistic attitude of people through greed, takesthe central importance in the play. The people embrace any financialhelp at the expense of law and moral well-being. The character ofAlfred Ill is used to show how greed for wealth makes him dodespicable things. Ill’s greed for money forces him to dump Clairefor Matilda who was wealthy at the time. This is confirmed when themayor tells Ill and the schoolmaster, “Millions, that’s the ideaprecisely … I’m fully prepared for my part, the rest is up toIll.” Alfred Ill then replies, “I know, Zachanassian has tocough up her millions” (Price,2001).

Claire’s greed for power andmaterial wealth forces her into prostitution where she finally meetsher first wealthy husband, Zachanassian. She even sheds lights on howshe met him, “It was my hair that entangled him” (Price,2001). Claire goes on to marry more men so as to amass enough wealth.This wealth is not for the benefit of herself but for a revengemission towards Alfred and the townsfolk. It is through her wealththat the people’s moral purpose of sustaining life is eroded. Theyadvocate Ill’s death in order to get the promised money. Durrenmattuses these two characters to emphasize on the modern repercussions ofindividual progression and choices when cultural contexts ofmaterialism, success and societal conformity are involved. He showsthat the search for advancement and progress erodes morals of peopleas they engage in many wrong and greedy acts.

Deception has a thematic relevanceof a corrupt character in the lives of Claire and Ill. Durrenmattemploys this theme to show how individual progression and socialadvancement can change people’s attitudes towards humanity andright deeds. Durrenmatt employs the absurdist theatre to confirm thedeception theme and show that the world is immutable and senseless.He expounds that the world is not rational and people can do anythingto get what they want. Deceit is manifested in the early life of Illand Claire. Ill seduced, impregnated and abandoned her forcing her toleave town (Price, 2001). He went forward to buy his paternity caseby presenting false witnesses. The outcome of this is manifested inthe ugly life of prostitution that Claire assumed afterwards.

Claire’s homecoming is also miredin deception. As a self-acclaimed philanthropist, she is welcomed andgreeted in open arms by the people of Gullen who thought that shewould endow them with the needed financial help in order to upliftthe economic status of the town. They did not know that she was notcoming purposefully to help them, but to take revenge and seek herjustice against Ill. This is manifested by her condition to the townof killing Ill in order to receive the grant. She makes Illuncomfortable by saying, “I have waited for this moment, all mylife, Ever since I left Gullen” (Price,2001). This actually verifies her wicked intentions rather thangoodwill to the townsfolk.

The corrupt character of friends isillustrated when Ill is deceived by most of the people he trusted themost. The mayor, for instance, discredits Ill’s eligibility for anelective post when he tells him, “You’re no longer eligible to beelected Mayor on the basis of moral qualifications” (Price,2001). This statement shows no moral incrimination for Ill but rathershows deception at play. The Mayor who had earlier promised him theposition when he retired had been paid off to discredit him.Durrenmatt confirms that greed for power and money can corruptsloyalists to abandon a person when in need. The people of the towntake expensive things from his store on credit because they knew thathe would ultimately be killed.

In conclusion, Durrenmatt conveysthe corrupt nature of humanity by presenting corruption, greed anddeception fit in the contextual and cultural concerns of the play,which are the role of money and economics in the social and economicadvancement of the society. Through these themes we can see thatmoney has corrupted most of the social, economic and politicalpillars of the society. Social advancement and desires occupy acentral command in the play. Money has turned many people greedy,deceitful and corrupt with the aim of advancing their lifestyles anddesires. Claire’s money has eroded all the morals in people, bothin high and low social stratification.


Price, D. W. (2001). The politicaleconomy of sacrifice in Durrenmatt`s “The Visit” SouthernHumanities Review,&nbsp35(2),109-127