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Drama

Uncovering the Corruption Of Justice in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Play The Visit

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Throughout history, there is always the question of whether or not justice can be bought and morally achieved. Money plays a key role in the deterioration of the fundamental basis of justice for there are many instances in which it has been capable of blurring the lines of what is morally right or wrong in the justice system. In Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit, he is able to shed light on how wealth can easily corrupt justice.

In the play, Dürrenmatt writes about a woman named Claire Zachanassian who is a billionaire. She decides to come back to her hometown of Güllen to seek justice by bribing the town one billion dollars in exchange for the death of someone who had wronged her a long time ago. Throughout her life, Claire has used her money as a means to achieve justice to demonstrate how easily justice can be intercepted. Dürrenmatt is able to use Claire’s vengeance and past as a way to explore the corruption of the justice system and how it is able to be swayed through a paternity trial, Roby and Toby’s freedom and Claire’s bounty over Alfred Ill.

The journey of exposing the corruption of the justice system in the play starts long before Claire comes back to visit. Dürrenmatt is able to use an explanation of the past to create the situation the town is dealing with right now. It helps give the audience a better understanding on Claire’s character and why she has proposed such a bargain. It is shown during the time when she was still a young girl in Güllen when she and Ill have been lovers. It was during this time Claire had become pregnant with his child. Claire tried to declare Ill as the father, but he was able to get two men to lie in court stating how Ill was not the only man Claire was intimate with.

The play states how Ill was able to bribe Loby and Koby and they stated, “We swore falsely…Ill bribed us, Ill bribed us” (Dürrenmatt 33). This shows how Ill was able to buy “justice” to benefit himself so he would not have to deal with Claire and the child. Ill did not want to become a father so he paid men to go against Claire’s testimony, denied paternity and went to marry Matilda for wealth. The verdict in turn had led Claire to become a prostitute and was the beginning of her hatred against Ill. Ill was able to prevent Claire from receiving the justice she deserved for his own personal gain. With Dürrenmatt tying the past to the present, he is able to use this scene to show how easily a victim can be seen as guilty due to lies, demonstrating how unreliable the justice system has become.

Claire believes everything can be bought, including justice. Since she has become a woman worth billions, she uses the money as a way to buy justice whether it be moral or not. With this realization, Dürrenmatt uses absurdity to better highlight how her money is put into use to change the system by taking unrealistic and exaggerated actions. One example was with Roby and Toby. Claire explains how she had come to contact with these men stating how they were, “Two gangsters from Manhattan, sentenced to die in the electric chair at Sing Sing. Released at my request…One million dollars per petition is what it cost me” (Dürrenmatt 18).

With a bail being this amount and the fact that they were sentenced to death, these two men must have been guilty of doing something terribly wrong. Despite that, Claire was able to release them and made them carry her in chair wherever she went. These are two criminals who had gotten the chance to be free again despite their earlier circumstances. Dürrenmatt is able to use absurdity to better describe this problem Claire has against the justice system and how flawed it can be. This scene demonstrates how money can interfere with the justice system proving the power of wealth.

Since Claire has the power to achieve what she wants, she wants to seek self-justice so she decides to propose a bargain to the townspeople. She states that if the town were to murder Ill, it would receive one billion dollars. Just like how she had no choice to accept her fate, she wanted to do the same with Ill. Dürrenmatt uses Claire’s dialogue to further express her emotions and the extreme lengths she will take for vengeance. She had returned to Güllen declaring to Ill, “…you chose your life and forced me into mine…and now I want justice, justice for a billion” (Dürrenmatt 35). Dürrenmatt is able to make it clear that Claire will not back down and that her self-justice had manifested itself into revenge leading her to desire Ill dead and even justifying it. This made Claire willingly give away one third of her money if it meant she would receive “justice” and justifies herself by declaring to the town how Ill had wronged her in the past. Claire’s perspective of justice has been tainted by vengeance and wants the town to accept her proposal by trying to convince the town to take the offer by making herself a victim of injustice.

The townspeople needed the money if they wanted Güllen to prosper again, but the death penalty was against their system. Güllen had viewed Claire’s proposition as something that “goes against humanity.” The townspeople believe they are people who hold high moral values and believe that justice can not in fact be bought. In the beginning, the town did try to gain Claire’s favor in trying to get her to donate money to the town, but refused when she still insisted for Ill’s death. The mayor of the town told her, “Mrs. Zachanassian, we are still in Europe; we’re not savages yet. In the name of the town of Güllen I reject your offer. In the name of humanity. We would rather be poor than have blood on our hands” (Dürrenmatt 35).

The town is conflicted because they want to accept but cannot go against their own word. Güllen had become a mere shadow of what it used to be. Yet, as the play goes on, Dürrenmatt uses irony to demonstrate the citizens going against Ill by the end. Güllen is a poor town along with the people, so when these people start to buy expensive items, it raises suspicions. Although they had stated to support Ill and even tried to prevent him from being murdered, towards the end, Dürrenmatt shows how the people start to accept Claire’s bargain by telling Ill that his death was inevitable. Dürrenmatt was able to use irony to make the town go against their word and were even trying to justify his death stating it was only fair for he was blocking Güllen’s path to prosperity. Dürrenmatt was able to demonstrate how great the temptation was that Güllen went against their own beliefs to benefit themselves.

In conclusion, Dürrenmatt uses Claire to expose the truth behind the justice system and how easily it can be corrupted. The Visit can be seen as a representation of real world problems in which there are interferences of not getting justice where it should be deserved. The play demonstrates ways justice is corrupted in society and how Claire’s idea of “justice” rises from her own personal desire for vengeance against those who had done her wrong in the past. Eventually throughout the play, justice becomes a word with no actual meaning and principles. Instead, the meaning is thrown around to adapt to one’s personal gain. Ill got himself “justice” by lying during the trial while in turn Claire was accused of lying.

This demonstrates how justice sometimes cannot be given to the right person due to people like Ill who want to benefit themselves. Also in the case with Roby and Toby, Claire was able to show money’s ability of altering the system and preventing justice from being served. Finally Claire’s bargain is created in a way that was impossible to refuse leading the townspeople to secretly take back their initial reactions and start to justify her claim as to why Ill should be killed. The Visit is a representation of real life to help bring forward the corruption that happens behind the walls of the justice system. It shows how easily one can sway the fundamental principles of justice leading to corruption in the system.

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