A Study Of The Role Of The Mayor’s Character In The Visit
‘The Visit’ by Friedrich Durrenmatt is about a millionairess who returns to Gullen, her hometown suffering from poverty due to bankruptcy. As a result the towns people hope that Claire would provide them with the money needed to save them from their crippling debts. Claire Zachanassian offers a million in return for someone to take Ill’s life. The play ends with a town meeting filled with press and Ill’s inevitable death. The role of Mayor’s character is significant as he possesses the highest level of authority in Gullen. He displays that he knows right from wrong at the end of Act One. After Claire’s declaration for justice, the Mayor says “We are not savages. I reject your offer in the name of humanity, We would rather have poverty than blood on our hands.” The Mayor’s words showed that he does have a set of morals and stands for humanity. However in face of Claire and money, his morals are quickly thrown aside and his attitude towards him changes as he has Claire and the media to back him. He is a puppet and slave to money, a weak character with weak morals and disposition that can be easily manipulated. As the mayor is an authoritative figure in Gullen, his actions have swayed the townspeople to kill Ill and justified their actions in doing so, revealing his role in leading the Gulleners astray from morality.
The Mayor’s opinion of Claire’s demand for Ill’s death in exchange for a million changes in Act Two when the Mayor himself is spending money and falling further into debt, like the rest of the Gulleners. After the Mayor’s demotes Ill from being future leader of Gullen, he goes on to say “The lady isn’t acting so unreasonably. You did bribe two kids to commit perjury and fling a young girl into the lower depths.” This shows a change in the Mayor’s perception and opinion of Ill. From wanting to make Ill the next mayor in town, praising Ill for having the most popular personality in town, loved by all, to saying Ill has a nihilistic attitude and committed a perjury. This presents a weakness in his nature and represents every Gullener’s weak and rotten core.
Throughout the play, the Mayor displayed a very hypocritical attitude, this reveals that he is trying to manipulate Claire Zachanassian to donating money to the Gulleners to get them out of poverty. For example, before Claire arrives, the Mayor asks Ill for details about Claire for his speech at the Golden Apostle -his poor attempt to impress and welcome Claire- however during his speech, he gets all of the information about Claire wrong. “Your mother, that magnificent and robustly healthy creature (Ill whispers something to him) tragically and prematurely torn from our midst by tuberculosis…”. This shows that the Mayor doesn’t know Claire, his ingenuity towards her. Throughout the speech, he flatters Claire, speaking only positive and good things about her. Not only did he get all the facts about her wrong, Ill had to correct him many times during the speech. His pathetic speech is then torn apart by Claire herself, who is brutally honest about her grades in school, that she stole potatoes for Widow Boll, not out of generosity but because she wanted to sleep with Ill in a more comfortable bed. This presents the fact that the Mayor is incompetent and unable to manipulate Claire despite his high authority in Gullen. The Mayor portrays the same hypocritical attitude when he turns on Ill, as the rest of the townspeople start to do in Act Two. Ill notices that the living standards are going up, the Gulleners are owning more, spending more. he realises that Claire’s proposal of 1 million for justice will become an inevitable ending of his life. Upon coming to this conclusion, Ill goes to the Mayor for official protection. “Ill: Living standards are going up. Mayor: That's real news to me. I’d be glad if they were. Ill: I demand official protection. Mayor: Eh! Whatever for?” However the Mayor not only does the Mayor brush aside Ill’s worries and fear for his life, telling Ill that the Gulleners don’t deserve to be treated with such ingratitude. The Mayor also demotes Ill from being future mayor, saying “You haven’t any moral right to demand the arrest of that lady and furthermore there’s no question of your becoming Mayor.” “The post of the Mayor requires certain guarantees of good moral character which you can no longer furnish”, These quotes shows a hypocritical side to the Mayor’s character, as he too lacks good strong morals and any other qualities to be a leader. The Mayor doesn't have his own independent opinions, his perception of Ill is manipulated and corrupted by Claire’s trail in the Golden Apostle. The Mayor is someone who doesn’t know right from wrong, a weak minded character that represents authority yet fails to lead his people down the right path.
The Mayor’s hypocritical side is shown when the Mayor tells Ill about the public meeting in the evening about Claire’s ‘endowment’. The Mayor has turned the night of Ill’s death into a publicity for Gullen. “Mayor: …you’ll have an absolutely clean record. Ill: That’s kind of you. Mayor: I didn’t do it for your sake. I was really thinking of your fine, upright, honest family.” The quotes exposes the fact that the Mayor uses a facade of goodness and justice to hide his rotten, treacherous character because in reality the Mayor didn’t keep up Ill’s reputation for Ill’s family, the Mayor does this for the media, for the people of Gullen and for himself. He presents Ill as Claire’s childhood friend accepting an endowment to cover up Ill’s death and the events that lead up to it.
In this same section of the play, the symbolism of the Mayor bringing Ill a loaded gun arises. It has a very powerful impact on the story and hold violent and negative connotations. The Mayor comes with the hope that Ill would shoot himself before the evening of facing the rest of Gullen along with the different platforms that would be filming or recording the events of that evening. The Mayor wanting Ill to shoot himself on behalf of Gullen is a cowardly act, No one wants to be held responsible for Ill’s death and its as if the Mayor refuses to accept that him wanting Ill dead, made him responsible for the death of a fellow human being. However later on when Ill refuses to kill himself the Mayor insults him, ‘You’re missing a chance to redeem yourself and be a more or less decent human being’. The Mayor sees Ill’s suicide to be an honourable thing, but there is no honour in death, pushing Ill to commit suicide reveals a cowardly mindset and an inability to accept the blame or responsibility of Ill’s death. Not only does the Mayor’s character affect the plot of the story, it also affects the people around him, the very people he is suppose to lead. During the public meeting that was held at the Golden Apostle, the Mayor sways the people of Gullen and the Press with his words. He’s careful with his words and hides the true nature of the meeting from the Press. “Madam Claire Zachanassian intends to make us a donation of one million pounds… Her aim is to have the spirit of this community transformed to the spirit of justice”. The Mayor doesn’t go into detail about what justice meant for Gullen or how they intended to change, the media is completely in the dark of the true intentions of the endowment.
The Mayor goes on to justify these very intentions, “Mayor: The Claire Zachanassian Endowment is accepted. Unanimously. Not for the sake of the money. Citizens: Not for the sake of the money Mayor: But for justice. Citizens: But for justice.” The Mayor manipulates the truth by spewing lines of lies about justice and rooting out wrongdoers and the Gulleners are repeating these lies back to him. The media spurs them on by asking them to repeat it for cameras. These actions sway the Gulleners to go along with the Mayor’s intent to kill Ill. Having these words recorded and streamed to the rest of the world, shows only the small hometown of a famous millionairess, a justice-loving town. Now when any of the Gulleners look back at this day, they won’t feel and guilt, shame or regret as the events have been recorded and broadcasted, the final nail in Ill’s coffin.
In conclusion, the Mayor’s hypocritical attitude, change in opinion and perception of Ill, along with his symbol of handing Ill a loaded gun; not only affects him but the rest of Gullen. The Mayor represents a corrupted authority, law and justice. Yet he twists the truth and his weak set of morals into justifying the action of killing someone, it shows he is easily swayed and influence by others. The Mayor shows no values or characteristics of a leader, he is a weak character. But the most dangerous part about his weakness and weak people, is that when suffocated, they do whatever they need to survive because the most dangerous people; are the most desperate ones.