Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s evolution as a playwright was a complex one, and The Visit mirrors the issues that concerned him for most of his life. His childhood was spent in a Swiss village that resembles Gullen, and some of his earliest recollections are of studying the townspeople of his hometown of Konolfingen, near Berne. The son of a Protestant minister, he was educated at local schools and at the University of Berne. Because the Switzerland of his formative years was an island of peace in a world at war, the issues of humanity and justice swirled around his country, and Dürrenmatt became deeply interested in justice and in its administration. He was also concerned about the self-satisfied attitude of many of his countrymen who chose stability, security, and common sense over intellectual daring and humanitarianism. Moreover, he was afraid of the vast powers of the modern megastate when controlled by a dictator. Thus, his commentaries on society, both in his prose and in his plays, often look at justice in society and justice for the individual, which, when followed to a logical conclusion, often led to grotesque results.
In the development of post-World War II theater, grotesque refers to a middle ground between epic theater and absurdist theater. Epic theater is predicated upon the changeability of the world, and the playwright tries to demonstrate alternatives to the playgoer; absurdist theater conceives of the world as immutable and senseless. In grotesque theater, the world is neither rational nor senseless. As uncertainty is the only certainty, a play must have elements of tragedy and of comedy within it, for that is the essence of life itself. Only tragicomedy can give an appearance of reality while the world is being questioned, which is the function of the playwright. Hence, Dürrenmatt’s plays are tragicomedies in which he poses questions regarding issues that concern him deeply.
In his first play, Es steht geschrieben (pr., pb. 1947; It Is Written, 1960; revised as Die Wiedertaufer, pr., pb. 1967, The Anabaptists, 1967), Dürrenmatt presents a...
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Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Visit Essay
Throughout the centuries doubles in literature create or intensify certain themes. In The Visit, doubles signify change and bring out the truth through dialogue, imagery, symbols, and characters. Characters function as doubles through dialogue, while symbols work to represent the characters. Settings enhance a character’s duality or employ them as doppelgangers. Doubles also show the irony within a work and how it makes a theme more important.
Dialogue is the most prominent form of doubling in the Visit. Dialogue doubles in two ways, when characters speak simultaneously and when characters repeat one another. The pair, Koby and Loby, is first introduced when Claire is stating her case for justice. She says that Ill impregnated her and bribed Koby and Loby so Ill would not have to claim the child’s paternity. When they admit to this crime, they say the dialogue together and repeat it. The dialogue is doubled by them speaking it together and doubled again by them repeating it. Doubling twice intensifies their message and shows the justice that was served to them for committing the crime, foreshadowing the justice that will be served to Ill. The simultaneous repetitions of lines show the guilt and Claire’s vengefulness especially when the Pair describes how Claire punished them. Toby and Roby, her past husbands, “castrated and blinded [them] castrated and blinded [them]” (Durrenmatt 34)
Durrenmatt employs another multiple through two women that visit Ill’s store. They enter the store to purchase goods, repeating after one another to double the order. First, they double the order starting with milk, then butter, bread, and finally chocolate. Each order gets increasingly more expensive by getting white bread and even splurging on chocolate. The luxurious groceries the women buy stresses excess and greed. The purchases also foreshadow the wealth they will come into. The milk, bread, and chocolate signify a communion, or rather a reverse communion. Instead of becoming more pure and holy, the women grow greedier. Through the two women, the society has morphed into more sinister characters, hungry for money.
The repetitive dialogue also doubles between the Mayor and the townspeople. Once the town decides the verdict and Ill is about to be killed the Mayor leads them in an cooperative speech. He says the endowment was accepted "not for the sake of money,” the community repeats the mayor. The Mayor continues, "but for the sake of justice," (Durrenmatt 106) and the townspeople reiterate his exact words. The stichomythic lines work together to sound like a ritual, or ironically an interactive speech in a church. With the latter idea, it brings a Christ-like quality to Ill. The community is sacrificing someone that is so innocent just because of their current situation. The depression of the town forces them to do something they will regret later. Whether it’s a ritual relate to religion or not, the lines make the townspeople unite and oppose Ill as a whole....
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