The Role Of Morality In Individual Versus Society In The Visit
When faced with the opportunity of financial gain, it may seem obvious to choose the path of success and wealth. When considering underlying factors of personal relations and ethics, this may not be the case. Claire Zachanassian, a small town girl turned billionaire, offers the deal of a lifetime to financially unstable Güllen: Kill Alfred Ill, a poplar townsman who seeks to be mayor, for the financial gain of one billion dollars. In Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s tragicomedy, the townspeople of Güllen face the hardships of morality in comparison to the attractions of wealth. In Dürrenmatt’s The Visit, the opposition of individual and society epitomizes the battle between personal morals and selfish desires to reveal the difficulty in overcoming temptation.
Dürrenmatt utilizes character’s inability to overcome inherent materialism to exhibit how unethical desires overcome ethical morals. Claire Zachanassian once lived in Güllen as a young lover of Ill, but was publicly humiliated when Ill neglected her and their unborn child. All of Güllen had turned their backs against the situation and she expresses her anger when she states, “The world made a whore of me, now I’ll make a whorehouse of the world”. This hyperbole gives the impression that Claire’s unmeasurable wealth allows her to take revenge on Ill and the town of Güllen for the humility she has faced in her life. By comparing herself as a “whore” to turning the world into a “whorehouse” exhibits the desire of revenge she takes upon the town of Güllen, to publicly embarrass the townspeople: wether they choose to take a life or miss the opportunity of transcendent riches. The exaggeration of society being compared to a “whorehouse” represents the idea that people will always fall into their temptations, no matter how severe the repercussions are. Claire puts character’s personal relationships at risk in order to achieve the revenge she has always craved. Harsh humiliation creates a loss of empathy towards others and the belief that opulence is the solution to power and revenge. When Ill discusses his feelings of defeat against Claire’s ultimatum, the teacher admits, “That disgraceful billion is burning in our hearts”. By comparing the idea of wealth to a “burning” feeling through a metaphor indicates the strong desires the town is gaining towards monetary wealth. By describing the billion dollars as “disgraceful” exemplifies the shame in defying personal morals that the town pursues in the results of their temptation. When the teacher states that the riches burn in “our hearts,” it proves that the entire society cannot ensure that they will protect Ill, as their urges overcome heartfelt morals. The society of Güllen believed Ill to be the most popular man in town, then degraded him completely because of their incapacity to follow moral ethics. Güllen’s inability to defend Ill’s life epitomizes the idea that monetary wealth suppresses heartfelt morals. The strenuous decision of choosing wants versus principles can tear apart one’s moral beliefs, as the enticement of personal satisfaction outweighs anything that is known to be right.
Dürrenmatt constructs a downfall of Ill against the townspeople of Güllen to reveal how the corruption of morality is created from the need for materialistic gains. In Ill’s final moments speaking to the pastor, he reflects on the loss of moral standards that Güllen has succumbed to in choosing prosperity over the life of a loved one,
“Pastor: (helpless) I’ll pray for you.
Ill: Pray for Güllen” (Dürrenmatt 108).
Ill telling the “helpless” Pastor to “Pray for Güllen” instead of himself is ironic because even the religious mentor of the town has turned against Ill in favor of wealth. The irony in describing the pastor as “helpless”, when religious figures are usually looked up to for assistance, embodies how falling into the trap of society makes a person loose their personal beliefs. Ill is the only one who can truly see how unrighteous his hometown has become, as the thought of financial gain submerges any true morals held before. When faced with a defying choice, it is assumed morals overtake everything, but when financial gain is involved morals are lost in the need for wealth. Once Ill’s life was taken, Güllen revolutionizes into a perfect, dream-like world, “ A previously gray world has been transformed into the flash and glitter of technical perfection, the epitome of affluence, a terminal happy end: flags, garlands, billboards, neon lights, women in evening gowns and men in tuxedos forming two choirs approximating those of Greek tragedy”. The quintessential imagery by describing Güllen as “technical perfection” from its previous “gray world” gives the impression that monetary gain gave the town happiness, demonstrating how morals are not considered in materialistic circumstances. Throughout the novel, the town emphasizes how pivotal it was for them to acquire the money, yet once they receive it they only use it for greedy purposes. Dürrenmatt describes Güllen as “the epitome of affluence” to highlight how consumed the town became in wealth, loosing all sight of heartfelt morals. Wealth can consume a person’s beliefs and values, and when it applies to a group many go against their moral principles for the benefit of a majority.
Dürrenmatt’s portrayal of shame within the townspeople of Güllen represents how egocentric wants produces guilt when neglecting one’s moral standards. When the Mayor and Ill converse over the public meeting being held to discuss Ill’s case, they speak about the secrecy of the ultimatum,
“Mayor: only the insiders will understand the meaning of the discussion.
Ill: The fact that my life is at stake.
Silence” (Dürrenmatt 88).
The silence is a symbol of guilt for the town, as when faced with reality they understand that monetary rewards surpass ethical rights in terms of personal gain. The town is conscious of how set against Ill they have become, but fails to accept their action through the use of silence. The entire town slowly neglects Ill as more and more people choose the path of fortune, as guilt encompasses their decision. Becoming obsessed with oncoming financial gain blurs the involvement of what makes true morals. When the press reflects on the endowment that the small town received so suddenly, they express, “Naturally, the community is stunned. there is a deathly silence here. Deep emotion on every face”. The visual imagery of “deep emotion” and the sound imagery of “deathly silence” work together to emphasize the shame that the town feels, even though they would not take back their actions. Their inability to face guilt highlights the difficulty in declining wealth for all in exchange for the protection of one. Dürrenmatt’s application of guilt upon the town signifies temptation’s control over any person, as personal desires creates the loss of knowing what is right or wrong.
Wealth and morals fight a continuous battle of what makes each right or wrong to pursue. Dürrenmatt manipulates multiple styles of figurative language to further audience’s interpretations of what makes a central choice bad or good. Isolation of an individual against a group furthers the complexity of wether the death of Ill in exchange for wealth was the right choice. Dürrenmatt puts morality and materialistic gain to the test through the opposition of individual versus society in The Visit.
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