When Freedom Isn’t Free: Considering the Costs of Liberation in Dürrenmatt’s The Visit
The life of Claire Zachanassian of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit is an endless pursuit of liberation – she offers the people of her depression-stricken hometown one million dollars in return for the death of her high school sweetheart, protagonist Alfred Ill. Claire believes that Ill’s death will justify the wrong she was done so many years ago when Ill testified against her in court and claimed to not be the father of her child, tacitly sentencing her to many a year spent in brothels. No matter how Claire tries to liberate herself from the past, however, the means she uses in order to liberate herself end up hurting her as well as those who initially suppressed her.
Because society has for so long imprisoned Claire, Claire must ultimately imprison society in order to liberate herself. The Guellen townspeople are initially appalled at Claire’s offer, the mayor proudly telling Claire that “in the name of all citizens of Guellen, I reject your offer; and I reject it in the name of humanity. We would rather have poverty than blood on our hands”(Dürrenmatt 39). Claire, however, has a different plan in mind. When Guellen’s doctor and schoolmaster try to talk Claire out of demanding the bloody price of Ill’s death in return for her one million dollar offer, Claire politely but firmly assures them that “the world turned me into a whore, I shall turn the world into a brothel” (67). This is exactly what Claire does. Despite how repulsed the town is by the unethical terms of the offer, the town members ultimately cave in to the point that when they gather in order to vote on whether or not to accept Claire’s offer, all but Ill vote in favor of accepting it. Claire also convinces the town’s gymnast to strangle Ill, the doctor to diagnose this cause of death as a heart attack, and the policeman into “[winking] a blind eye” (22) so that her unethical deed of paying one million...
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