Dürrenmatt’s The Visit is a tragic comedy that has one of major protagonists, Claire Zachanassian, involve the entire village in the revenge against her against her childhood enemy Alfred Ill, but the much anticipated happiness after the revenge fails to materialize. This essay will concentrate on whether Dürrenmatt had the intention of having readers express some sympathy on the victim, Alfred III. It is hereby being argued that Dürrenmatt was personally sympathetic on what befell Alfred III upon Clare’s visit despite his grave deed against her. At the beginning of the play, Dürrenmatt portrays Alfred III as the individual who raped Clare at a tender age only to bribe two drunkards who falsely testified to sleeping with Clare. The shame that came with such act forced Clare to more to another region, where she accumulate a fortune. With fresh pains from Alfred III’s actions, the now rich Clare decides to come back to the village for a grand revenge. Alfred II had also become rich an important person in the society. Dürrenmatt does a delicate job of balancing Clare’s need for revenge against her rapists and the need to have justice sought through the traditional legal means. Dürrenmatt chooses to provide incentive for the village people to kill Alfred III in exchange of half billion in cash for the community through the mayor’s office and another half a billion that was to be shared among individual village residents. This money was used to corrupt morals in the community as many people were willing to break the law and conspire against one of fellow residents.
Dürrenmatt therefore has the village split in to sides by Clare’s money; one hand is the entire village that is willing to take the money and on the other side is Alfred III who is graved to see the entire village turning against him. A major source of sympathy is fact that fellow villagers ignored what one of their important members had done to improve lives in one way or another—they were completely blinded by Clare’s money. Dürrenmatt even portrays the entire village going on a luxurious spending spree even before they had agreed on killing Alfred III. The spending was taking place in anticipation of the coming wealth had the village agreed on revenging for Clare. Alfred was at this period hoping against hope that fellow villagers would consider saving his life considering his deeds. Alfred III seems to have been confident that fellow villagers were going to spare his life to an extent of attending parties and meetings as he had done before; it was during such parties that he was killed.
Dürrenmatt illustrates that a teacher in the village was willing to spare Alfred III’s life despite the entire village baying for his blood in exchange of monies. Having only one person to beg for saving Alfred III casts a sympathetic image that Dürrenmatt wants his readers to express. To push for this sympathy further, Dürrenmatt has the teacher jump ship; he too chooses to join in killing Clare’s rapist in exchange of the money. Poor Alfred III is left with nobody to push for more human and traditionally legal way of punishing him. Dürrenmatt’s intended to have his readers become sympathetic to the now defenseless Alfred III. After all having the entire village full of individuals who knew him since childhood yet none to defend him was truly sorry. This situation leads to situation a conclusion that a huge chunk of readers indeed become sympathetic of Alfred III’s.
Unfortunately for Clare, the death of Alfred II did not make her happy as she intended. She still felt the pain as she did when he was alive, which leads to readers concluding that Alfred III’s death was all for nothing. Fact that Clare’s life did not change with the revenge is more likely to leave Dürrenmatt’s readers with a sorry feeling for the now-assassinated Alfred III. Reader could in addition have negative feeling against Clare because of her dissatisfaction despite using lots of resources in achieving her elusive happiness goals. This process of winning readers’ sympathy increases as the play matures, a tactic that achieves its goal. Another source of sympathy is the wealth asymmetry between Clare and Alfred III. While both individuals had immense wealth, the former had more to spend compared to the latter. Had Alfred III had more resources to match his opponent, he would have offered the villagers something in order to spare his life. This would have resulted upward bidding between the two individuals with the highest bidder giving respective wish being respected by the masses. However, matching half a billion offered by Clare was only a dream to Alfred III. In addition the amount of money offered by Clare most likely resulted to villagers monitoring Alfred III’s every move lest he consider fleeing the village. His attempt to escape was therefore fully sealed by hyper motivated villagers. Despite confidence that people in the village would remember is many contributions through his life, Alfred III must have been continuously intimidated by the number of people watching his every move. The word on the amount of money offered by Clare had surely reached near, far villages and basically any region that Alfred III could have considered relocating. People in these areas could have been easily convinced to turn him to the villagers baying for his life in exchange of sharing reward. This situation of having nowhere to run in such desperate times calls for greater sympathy from readers who serve as audience as the tragic play rolls-on.
Dürrenmatt generates readers’ sympathy by trimming Alfred choices of escape and surviving what lay ahead. Further, Dürrenmatt succeeds in portraying Alfred III as a victim of corruption of morals in the society and deterioration in the rule of law. Village leaders such as the mayor and church elders were all in favor of killing Alfred III in exchange of, hopefully, unending luxurious life. Ironically, these were the individuals tasked with the responsibility of guiding the society in living in accordance to the traditionally practiced law. However, they were all willing to sacrifice one person in exchange of large sums of money; they even ignored his contribution to the village life before Clare’s return. What happened to Alfred III illustrates how leaders and the wealthy in communities collude in ignoring the law much to their benefit as victims suffer unspeakable losses. Dürrenmatt succeeds in convincing readers that Alfredo III’s life was lost because of corruption of morals in the society, which cultivates much sympathy.
Dürrenmatt, Friedrich. The Visit. New York: Grove Press, 1990.
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