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Books

The Visit As A Typical Example Of The Theatre Of The Absurd

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

The Visit is a tragicomedy play written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt and is heavily focused on human morals, or more the breakdown of it. In this play, the economically poor town of Güllen in visited by a rich millionairess known as Claire Zachanassian who seeks revenge on the main character Alfred Ill in the form of murder. Instead of killing Alfred herself, Claire uses money to manipulate the townspeople of Güllen to kill Alfred, and this is where human morality breaks down completely. Throughout The Visit, there are several features from ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ plays which I will be analysing in this paper. Prior to this analysis, I will be talking about ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ in order to link features from The Visit with those of Absurdist plays. Lastly, there will be a conclusion to summarize everything.

Now for some context behind ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ was the name given to a group of plays written post World War II in the late 1950s by mainly European playwrights. Playwrights were given the name ‘Absurdists’ and a majority of these playwrights were in France when writing Absurdist plays. ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ plays were heavily focused on their characters when they cannot find any purpose or objective in life. The purpose of these plays was to display This often leads to repetitive and meaningless acts which result in the characters questioning their own existence. These plays also utilize the idea of an unknown external force, controlling the environment around the characters and terrorizing them. Another typical feature of ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ is grotesque and is the main ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ feature that can be seen in The Visit. Grotesque was often put in ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ plays in order to make people laugh, as it would be so random. Now that there is context behind ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, I will move on to the actual ‘absurd’ features in The Visit.

The first part of this analysis regards the main antagonist of The Visit, Claire Zachanassian. This character carries many grotesque features which were likely influenced by ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. Firstly, there are Claire’s prosthetic limbs which are revealed on pages 13: Claire Zachanassian “my left leg is gone. A car accident. “Now I only travel in express trains” and page 26: Claire Zachanassian “You’re wrong. Another prosthesis. Ivory.” From these pages, we find out that Claire has at least two prosthetic limbs due to a car and plane crash both of which she survived. Dürrenmatt likely mentioned Claire’s prosthetic limbs to emphasize what she has gone through in her life prior to revisiting Güllen. The prosthetic limbs might even be the reason to why Claire seems psychologically unstable, due to possible trauma from these crashes, as after many years she is still dead-set on getting revenge on Alfred Ill.

The next feature about Claire Zachanassian that can be seen as grotesque are her servants. In The Visit she has 5 servants: Koby, Roby, Toby, Loby and The Butler who essentially do everything for her. Not only are their names grotesque as they are made to rhyme, but they also perform strange tasks such as carrying Claire around in a sedan chair. Page 22 shows this: Stage direction “The two gum-chewing brutes emerge from upstage, carrying Claire Zachanassian the sedan chair, Ill at her side.”. It could be suspected that Claire also uses her servants to scare Alfred Ill since she hunted down her servants-to-be, Koby and Loby, had them castrated and blinded by Roby and Toby under her orders after they lied before the court during a case involving Claire and Ill. Page 34 shows this: Butler: “And what did Toby and Roby do to you?” The pair: “Castrated and blinded us, castrated and blinded us.” Not only would Claire’s servants scare Ill, but they are also there to represent Claire’s power. The grotesque names, behaviour, and appearances of Claire’s servants were with no doubt influenced by the Absurdists. Something else worth mentioning is Claire’s panther which she brought to Güllen. Around act 2 in The Visit Claire’s black panther escapes from its cage and is hunted by the townspeople, Page 49 Policeman: “That screwy billionaire has lost her little lap-dog. The black panther. I have to hunt it down.” My suspicion is that Claire brought the black panther once again to scare ill, like her servants. Perhaps her intention was to foreshadow what would happen to Ill, as both Ill and the black panther are killed by the townspeople at the end of the play.

Possibly one of the most obvious grotesque features in The Visit is the name of the town, Güllen. Evidence on page 1: “Güllen-evidently the name of the small town whose buildings, run-down and dilapidated, are sketchily indicated in the background.”. In German Güllen means literally ‘To spread manure’. This is sure to have some comedic effect on audience members familiar with German. The reason I think Dürrenmatt gave his fictional town such a name is to reflect on its physical and economic state, that being poor and dilapidated. Just like in ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ plays, this grotesque feature was undoubtedly chosen for its comedic effect on the audience.

Another area of The Visit that carries grotesque, absurdist-related features are the townspeople. Instead of appearance, it is more their actions and behaviours that can be seen as strange or grotesque. The way in which the townspeople of Güllen speak gives the audience the feeling that they have some form of hive-mind: “a notional entity consisting of a large number of people who share their knowledge or opinions with one another, regarded as producing either uncritical conformity or collective intelligence”. Put simply, the townspeople think together, and as a result, speak together. For example, at the end of Act 2 on page 67, Alfred Ill is attempting to flee Güllen in fear that someone will kill him, but he is too paranoid to get on the departing train as he thinks he will be held back by one of the townspeople at the last second.

The language that is used by the townspeople is entirely out of the ordinary. They chant the same words twice in unison, very similar to Claire’s servants, Koby and Loby. Examples on page 67 include: All: “Get on the train! Get on the train!”, All (insistently): “Nobody! Nobody!”. The townspeople of Güllen repeat their words as if they had rehearsed what they would say to Ill together. Apart from this all of the Gülleners seemingly pretend as if they do not care about Ill’s quick departure, which is completely unrealistic, as the town is relying on his death to save them. Dürrenmatt’s choice to portray the townspeople of Güllen in this way is likely to have been influenced by ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, because in a typical ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ play there is an anonymous external force influencing the environment around the main character/s, and this can be seen in The Visit when the townspeople act in a grotesque or unusual way by talking in unison, as if controlled by some external force.

In conclusion, there are several ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ features in The Visit. The features that I have talked about were mainly focused on the random grotesque features that are seen in ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ plays, but I also talked about an example where the environment around the main character was seemingly being influenced by an unknown, outside force (also seen in Absurdist plays). Claire Zachanassian is a very grotesque character along with some of the other things she brought to Güllen. Additionally, there are grotesque names used in The Visit such as Koby, Roby, Toby, Loby, and Güllen. The author, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, was clearly influenced by The Absurdists when writing The Visit.

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