Type: Definition Essays
Sample donated: Don Dunn
Last updated: June 26, 2019
Asdesperation builds up in the Central European town of Gullen, the townspeoplefind hope in Miss Claire Zachanassian’s arrival, expecting to be her charityrecipient. To her amusement, she makes absurd and grotesque commands to outlinethe desperation of the Gulleners that is being presented. This is how Clairesucceeded in killing Alfred Ill without doing it herself. In FriedrichDurrenmatt’s The Visit, theprevalence of this “Grotesque” is a key factor that is implemented tosignificantly highlight the manipulation, specifically portrayed by the main villainin the play, Miss Claire Zachanassian. From Claire’s successful manipulation,it is clearly evident that desperation can lead people to perform actionsharmful to others.
To understand how Friedrich Durrenmatt utilized the”Grotesque” to underline Claire Zachanassian’s presentation of manipulation,the definition must be set in place. The Grotesque is the distortion of logicalboundaries. This prevalent concept sets up foreshadowing in the very beginningof the play, in Act I.
It is safe to say that the abstraction refers to mostlyClaire Zachanassian and how she is easily able to control an entire town. Herprimarily dark humor suggests her seemingly absurd and outrageous commands. A prime example of these commands iswhen she jokes about “buying” herself justice because, according to Claire,”everything can be bought.” It is revealed to the audience later in the playthat Claire did literally buy justice in that she bought Boby, a former ChiefJustice, as her servant.
Metaphorically, this justice is portrayed by Claire,”I can afford justice… justice for a billion…if someone kills Alfred Ill,”suggesting that the justice of having Alfred dead is used as a bribe to thetown, which takes place a lot as well. The frequency of bribery permits the actitself to be considered an example of grotesque. Another case in which a bribery takesplace by Claire Zachanassian is when she bribes the train conductor to overlookher illegal action of pulling the train’s emergency cord in the first fewscenes of Act I.
Additionally,the demand to have Alfred Ill killed for Zachanassian’s gain of justice is a crucialexample of her irrational orders, in which the Mayor is forced to reply onbehalf of the entire town. Unfortunately, Claire’s manipulation doesn’t seem towork on the Mayor and other authority figures initially, upon her firstproposition. The Mayor replies to her cry for justice by saying, “We’re notsavages, yet… in the name of Gullen I reject your offer. In the name ofhumanity, we would rather be poor than have blood on our hands.” This replyreveals several things. First, the response displays that there is, indeed, greedpresent, being “poor,” a greed that Claire is extremely aware of and uses toher benefit, but not enough for the entire town to be compelled to kill one oftheir own.
The avarice that Claire truly uses for herself to get revenge onAlfred is effectively translated to the townspeople as a benefit to them, butwith a consequence that is as guilty as Claire Zachanassian’s lover, AlfredIll. The fact that the Mayor chose to make his point with “yet” foreshadows theunfaithfulness of the Gulleners they will express to themselves and their ownmorals later in the play, in that the desperation will ultimately prevent themfrom resisting compulsion. It shows that Durrenmatt will present an evidentsavagery in the town in acts to come. This reaction by the Mayor displays tothe audience that he has no intention of doing this “favor” for Claire, atleast not initially, even out of hopelessness, yet in Act II, it is discoveredotherwise from the townspeople. Clearly, the Mayor got involved and agreed togiving Claire her justice by conforming to his people’s beliefs.
This frequent acclimatizationas well as the common desperation that the Gulleners had make Claire successfullyin control of what takes place in the town because of her wealth. Hersuperiority, monetarily speaking, has given her the leverage a villain needs tocomplete a devious task and her dark humor that distorts the logical boundariesand morals of the townspeople, as represented by the Mayor’s initial refusal, allowspeople to feed into that manipulation. Claire proves to be successful as thetownspeople attempt on several occasions to eliminate Alfred Ill. Also, as thefamiliar townspeople of Gullen begin to act with disloyalty as a result of acquisitiveness,giving into Claire’s illogical mandates, Alfred Ill commences to find suspicionin every action of the town: customers buying extremely expensive things,promising to pay later, in which they know they won’t have to because he willbe dead, or the communal theme of wearing yellow shoes among the town. The ideais fully and especially comprehended in the scene where Alfred Ill pays theMayor a direct visit in the Mayor’s Office at Gullen City Hall to report hissuspicions. The Mayor tries to explain to Alfred that he must, as mayor, “meetcertain moral requirements” and that he does not “condone the crimes that ledto Claire’s proposal.” With this, the Mayor is clearly separating himselffrom Ill’s problems, much nearly like how his family separated themselves fromhim as they know that the town is going to go through with Claire’s risibledemands for justice and don’t want to get physically involved, even though itwas a collective contribution that led to Alfred Ill’s ultimate demise. Thefact that Alfred Ill’s family and the Mayor seem to know about the finalsolution to kill Alfred Ill as a town, even without physically hurting Alfredthemselves, it can automatically be assumed that they have practically condonedthe murder to take place for the better of the town.
The idea that “the needsof the many outweighthe needs of the few,” directly correlates to this situation, sacrificing onetown member for the benefit and improvement of the town as a whole. This is achief example of distortion of logical boundaries that defines the concept ofthe “Grotesque”. It is clear that the greater good of the town is worth killingone society member in that the “ends justify the means,” the “ends” of which isthe reception of Claire’s prize and the “means,” being the extremes to getClaire her justice by killing Alfred Ill. The constant exaggeration that isnoticed throughout the play is not appealing to the townspeople unless the”ends” in this case are elaborated, which will compel the Gulleners to performsuch ridiculous tasks. Claire is seemingly superior to everyone, even to herhusbands, but this supremacy over everyone reveals her ability to entice thetown into temptation, in which there is asense of permanence to Claire Zachanassian’s evilness. The greed and the adherenceto ultimately annihilate Alfred Ill should have given the Gulleners a guiltyconscience even in the aftermath, after having received one billion fromClaire. Instead, the town is experiencing emptiness, having moved on with theirlives with no guilt about killing Alfred Ill and getting money for it.
This whole assimilation allows Claire Zachanassian to useher compulsive powers to persuade them by beguiling them with something thatthe town severely lacks, wealth. In his play,The Visit, Friedrich Durrenmatt was able to utilize the concept of the”Grotesque” to emphasize the manipulation by Claire Zachanassian, provensuccessful because her superiority and control were being fed by thetownspeople’s desperation for money and their compliance with the rest ofsociety. The two were so strong that even the pastor could not stand up tofight the evil as pastors are tasked to do. Even though Claire is built ofprosthetic limbs, there is no feeling of sympathy for her because of her darkhumor that drives her manipulating nature, proving that her physical deformitiesdirectly translate into a distorted emotional disposition and a corruptcognizance of personal justice. The grotesque of the artificial limbs meansthat Claire is completely built up of the “Grotesque” and manipulation as aresult, where she is not a real human anymore due to a loss in humanity,although her heart seems even less human.
She is often carried into a scene ona sedan chair lifted by two bodyguards, where her servants bow down to her asif she were a queen. The distortion of logical boundaries used as anexaggeration and a theme of absurdity is what highlights her successfulmanipulation because no one will stand up to her due to a desperation formoney. A manipulator is defined as a person who controls or influences othersin a clever or unscrupulous way. Claire was able to control others in anunscrupulous way, therefore deeming Claire as the definition of a manipulator.