A Theme Of Justice In The Visit By Friedrich Durrenmatt

In The Visit, author, Friedrich Durrenmatt uses the development of characters and symbolism to raise the questions of corruptibility of Justice “Can Justice Be Bought”? The main characters, Claire Zachanassian, Alfred Ill and the townspeople of Güllen all help the author give us, as audience a darkly comic, visual and in the end an unanswerable debate about the nature of justice, corruptibility and redemption. Within the play justice is seen and received in different times with the exchange of something different. But in the end justice was served to everyone.

From the beginning, Justice meant something very different to each of the characters in the play. To Claire Zachanassian, Justice is the same as vengeance- a desire to punish someone for their wrongs. Although, Claire treats Justice as a material of wealth that can either be bought or sold. For example, when arriving in Güllen she offers the town a billion dollars in exchange of Ill’s death, “...I will give you a billion, and with that billion I will buy myself Justice”. In Claire’s mind she equates Ill’s punishment as justice. Furthermore, in the past Claire has purchased Justice many times. A previous judge in Güllen, Boby the Butler left his profession behind in order to enter into Claire’s personal service. Boby explains to the gulleners of his town that he couldn’t refuse, the salary he was offered was to much to turn down. Money plays a big role in life, just as in the play, it shows the judgment and desire of money and how it can achieve people in making them sacrifice something or someone to receive something in need. However, justice is not controlled by the government but is yet manipulated by Claire and Alfred Ill within the community. With being able to buy things in her desire, Claire uses this as an advantage to keep moving forward with her plan to achieve her quest. She has a plan of getting people out of her way and pursuing the punishment, a punishment that will last forever for the way Ill had betrayed her and took her life, leaving her with no choice but being a prostitute in order to survive. Claire buys her way through life and uses her money to receive the things she needs in life.

As for Ill, justice requires accountability to one owns actions. Not only did Ill know he was wrong for his doings in the past, he did not expect Zachanassian to return to Güllen after so many years and seek for “justice” for something that happened so long ago. When Claire arrived in Güllen she had brought along an empty coffin which then became a symbolism for the grim fate that awaits Ill. That’s then when Ill knew the coffin was a sign of death and was awaiting him. As time passes, he begins to feel troubled about their encounter and starts to fear as he begins to notice new yellow shoes on the townsmen, and the fact that gulleners are purchasing items on credit. With every new purchase, the townspeople farther commodify Ill, raising the price over his head. Ill then goes to the policemen in seek of help and demands to have Claire arrested for having threatened his life. After awhile he stops trying to justify his actions and acknowledges the pain he caused years ago. In the end, he is set apart from the gulleners. It also set him apart from Claire, which has a character development of static to stund, she remains from the beginning to end. Claire’s “justice” was not justice, Alfred knew it was revenge for ruining her life. Both Claire and Alfred Ill had two very distinct perspectives of justice but Ill knew for a fact Claire was going to finish it off with receiving hers. Alfred Ill did not need to “buy” justice because he himself brought “justice” at Claire’s expense by presenting false witnesses during the paternity suit that she had brought against him.

For the townspeople, justice is just an empty word. The word justice just carries the meaning of “doing the right thing”. Within being in Güllen for the first day, Claire offers the citizens, the gulleners money with the exchange of justice. The gulleners first respond with a no “...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”. After realizing they made a mistake, the gulleners then accept Claire’s proposal and start gaining hate for Ill for what he had done to Claire in the past. Claire then starts manipulating the town then making them turn their back on Ill. The town turns on Ill for his crimes that they would of never of cared about if it was not for Claire and her money. He then loses support from groups such as the police, the government, and the citizens. For the town not to feel guilty, they all kill Ill as a group to share the guilt. Not only are they left with guilt, they are also left with money that they needed to survive within the town.

For each of the main characters, justice meant something different. Each character as an individual received what they wanted and labeled it as “justice”. Although, Dürrenmatt suggests, justice can be bought and principles and ideals are only relevant insofar as they are convenient. The play also showed how justice is complicated and motivated by greed. Alfred Ill, Claire Zachanassian and the townspeople all were examples of someone who was motivated by greed. In the real world justice in some what cases can be bought but justice is not the same as revenge. 

16 August 2021
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