Examining Claire Zachanassian in Act One of The Visit

February 6, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Act One of The Visit, the character of Claire Zachanassian makes her first appearance in Guellen, and it is also when we see the main reason why she has come to Guellen: to “buy” justice for the injustice that was done to her many years ago by Alfred Ill. Dürrenmatt raises two main themes through his portrayal of Claire Zachanassian in Act One, specifically those of dehumanization and whether everything can bought.At the start of Act One, Claire Zachanassian, a millionaire, has just arrived in Guellen early because she pulled the Emergency Brake on the train. This act alone signifies her power, as it shows that she does not follow the rules that everyone lives by. The fact that she gets away with it proves that she is above everyone else; the same laws do not apply to her, and she is also able to change the laws for everyone else. In Claire’s point of view, she was right to pull the Emergency Brake, because doing so is more convenient for her. (“Are you really and truly asking me to go puffing round this countryside for half an hour?”) Her strange habit of giving nicknames to her employees and her husbands suggests that she is dehumanizing everyone else around her by putting them in a status far below her own. The way she presents her seventh husband is rather comical and almost as though she’s presenting an animal or an object (“Isn’t he nice, with his little black mustache?” ), and the way she commands him rather reminds this member of the audience of a trainer commanding a dog (“Think it over, Moby…Harder…Harder still.” ) In the way that Dürrenmatt has Claire present her husband, we, as the audience, see that she is almost like a goddess, because of her power over people and how she can change the accepted social order. The Schoolmaster notices this, and states that, “I could suspect her of spinning destiny’s webs herself.” She is able to track down Louis Perch and Jacob Chicken “to the ends of the earth” and punish them for the injustice that they did to her, moreover; she has the ability to play with people’s lives, such as her saving the Manhattan gangsters’ lives, and later on, offering one million for the death of Alfred Ill, also showing that she can take away life as well. She is also hard to kill, because of how she has survived an automobile accident and was the only survivor of a plane crash, which helps reinforce the idea that she is above humans, like a goddess, specifically a Greek one, as the ancient Greek goddesses were known for their cruel punishments.Dürrenmatt seems to raise the issue of whether or not money can buy everything, through his portrayal of Claire Zachanassian, and her careless way of handling money, shown when she told Boby, her butler, to pay the Ticket Inspector four thousand when he raised objections to her pulling the Emergency Brake. She seems to believe that money can buy everything, since in the past, she has bought things that are not buyable, such as the hiring of her butler, the former Chief Justice Courtly of Guellen, who explains to the town that the salary was one that he couldn’t refuse (“however, the salary involved was really quite fantastic…”) . Her petition of the two Manhattan gangsters, Roby and Toby, also further explores the issues of whether or not money can buy everything, because using her money, Claire Zachanassian was able to change the law itself, and managed to purchase the gangsters’ lives because she needed two bodyguards. Later on, we, as the audience, also see her offer one million dollars to the Guelleners, not because she truly wishes to help Guellen rise again, but because she wants to buy herself justice. Here, Claire Zachanassian still believes that everything can be bought, as long as there is enough money (“I can afford it. A million for Guellen if someone kills Alfred Ill”) , and her ominous reply to the Mayor’s dignified refusal of her offer tells the audience that she is sure that she will get her way in the end. Dürrenmatt uses this to help relay to the audience the power of the theatre of the absurd, in that it is able to raise issues of the human nature. In The Visit, he seems to be criticizing the corrupting power of money, because Claire Zachanassian is abusing the privilege of being wealthy, to demand the death of Alfred Ill. Another reason for Claire Zachanassian’s presence in the first act is to create a sense of foreboding and tension. Her queer whims, like bringing a coffin to Guellen, and her statement, “I may need it (the coffin)” early on in Act One can be seen as a warning that Dürrenmatt gives to the audience- something sinister is about to happen later on. The constant image of the coffin Her “jokes” also serve to warn the audience that she is planning to do something soon, something that is unlawful and perhaps involving the death of someone, because her “jokes” are all related to death, such as her question to the Gymnast, “Ever used your muscles for strangling?” and her advice to the Policeman, “Start learning to wink them (eyes) both,” an indication that crimes are soon to be committed and that the Policeman is expected to allow them to occur.The audience is also forewarned by the scene in Konrad’s Village Wood, where Claire Zachanassian and Alfred Ill are talking, and Claire, in reply to Ill, says that she has “grown into hell itself”. This statement is perhaps Claire reflecting on the things that have happened to her, and how they have changed her, although it is unclear what happened to her until Claire offers the one million for Ill’s death. Act One builds on the tension and it reaches the climax when Claire Zachanassian offers the one million, but with the one condition of Ill’s death. It is only then that we see how Ill’s betrayal of Claire had forced her into prostitution, and made Claire the person that she is. Dürrenmatt evokes sympathy for Claire because of the past injustice that she has suffered, and it is easy to emphasize with Claire about her one condition. However, Dürrenmatt also manages, at the same time, to evoke feeling of horror for Claire Zachanassian’s sense of “justice”, as it involves the death of Alfred Ill. The audience is put into a difficult dilemma: should they really blame Claire Zachanassian for wanting revenge, even if it involves murder, after all that Ill had put her through?At the end of the play, we see that the townspeople has given in to temptation, through a series of changes from sticking to Ill, to thinking that the Claire Zachanassian’s offer is too good to refuse, and that Ill was the cause of Guellen’s poverty. The theatre of absurd is particularly powerful, because it magnifies one flaw of the human nature. The Guelleners are normal people, neither good nor bad, but weak, and because of their thoughtless irresponsibility, give in to Claire Zachanassian’s offer. It is also important to note the influences from which Dürrenmatt drew his ideas for The Visit; he modeled it after the Greek tragedy, Medea, with the intention of portraying a vengeful and sorrowful woman who has been betrayed by her lover. In Act One, the audience can see similarities between The Visit and Medea. In both situations, the women possess the power to punish her unfaithful lover, and both of the plays force the audience to think about how they, themselves, would have reacted if they had been in the same situation.To conclude, Dürrenmatt uses the character of Claire Zachanassian to introduce to the audience challenging ideas, like the issue of whether or not everything can be bought, and the process of dehumanization in relationships which are unequal, because one party has wealth. He uses her presence in Act One to build up tension all the way to the end of the act, through his usage of suggestive language, and the visually/imaginatively suggestive use of a coffin, all of which provokes the audience to put ourselves into the same situation. It is Dürrenmatt’s skill to have produced a play which makes us, as the audience laugh, but one that also disturbs us deeply. The questions it asks and raises are not pleasant ones to have to face.

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