It is arguable that The Visit is a feminist play on account of the fact that it represents the main female character in the context of the time period in which it was written. A feminist play often portrays women as being unequal to men. They are seen as being superior to men in terms of power and privilege. Given that Fredrich Durrenmatt was Swiss, it is likely that the play was set near Switzerland, which is a nation in which women did not achieve full suffrage until 1971. It was one of the few European countries to limit women’s voting rights at the time. The play was critical of men. This can be seen in its portrayals of Ill and Claire. Ill was depicted as having abandoned Claire when she was still young. Claire went from being a poor prostitute to returning as a powerful and wealthy woman. She returned selfish and arrogant and saw herself above the rest of the Gulleners. She introduced her own version of the law to the city: “anything can be bought with money”. The play depicted the moment when she returned to Guellen to get her revenge against both Ill and the people of the city.
Throughout the play, Claire Zachanassion was seen as a threat to the city of Guellen. Her pursuit of vengeance left its economy in ruins. She displayed disdain towards all of her husbands, as demonstrated by her peculiar habit of renaming all of them except the first. An example of this was when she referred to one of her husbands as ‘Hoby’ in spite of the fact that it was not his birth name. She said, “So it was. You’re right. Hoby” (page 42). She was also patronising to him on account of the fact that he was correct.
Claire displayed the same patronising attitude towards her employees. She gave them unusual names, which was demonstrative of her wish to dehumanise them. The fact that she gave nicknames to everyone displays her desire to feel wield her power over the Guelleners and express her disdain towards them in order to satisfy her desire for vengeance. On page 56, Claire said, “Matilda Blumhard. I can remember you lying in wait for Alfred behind the shop door, you’ve grown very thin and pale, my dear”. It is clear that Claire was tormenting Mrs Ill and dehumanizing her about her past, further emphasising her position within society and highlighting the power of women.
Claire also displayed insidious behaviour towards the citizens of Guellen. She said, “I know what the world looks like”, giving the impression that she was the only one who knew the world outside Guellen. She regarded herself as being “unkillable” (page 72). When she was a prostitute, her status was not much greater than that of a dog, but then she was raised to the status of god. ‘My plane crashed in Afghanistan. I was the only one who crawled out of the wreckage. Even the crew died”, she said, emphasizing the idea of her being “above the rest”. She demonstrated to the Guelleners that when she left them, she became a different, more powerful woman. When she returned to them, there was a noticeable difference in her. She referred to them as “garbage”.
As previously stated, Claire arrived in Guellen and immediately imposed her own personal version of “law”. She interrupted the usual judicial process, and forced the townspeople to satisfy her personal desire for vengeance. Claire represents the power of all women in general, as she was an important figure among the citizens. In the play, it said, “The police are here to enforce the law”. However, this is ironic, as after Claire’s offer, they were willing to break the law to get the one million dollars. This demonstrates the play’s feminist undertones, because it gives the impression that Claire’s words are strong enough to override the law. She made a mockery of the role of the police officers, together with the remainder of the citizens of Guellen.
At the end of the play, the police officer made a speech in which he said, “You’re forgetting you’re in Guellen. A city of Humanist Traditions… we owe allegiance to our lofty heritage”. This was the initial position of the Guelleners. However, after Claire’s offer, they soon changed their minds and began to support her vengeance against Ill. There is a quote from the text that reads, “Her aim is to have the spirit of this community transformed- transformed to the spirit of justice… not for the sake of the money. Bur for justice”. This shows the how consumed the citizens were with Claire’s proposal. It further enforces the notion that “money can buy everything”.
Claire was able to corrupt the citizens with the money that she offered owing to their desperate need to recover their economy, which she had personally destroyed. “ You know what you have to do”, she said, proposing to them that the only way out of the debts that the city was faced with was to help her to kill Ill and get the million dollars from her. This put into effect her “law”; she managed to change the opinion of the most powerful figures in the city. The mayor, police, and even the schoolmaster all turned against Ill.
The male characters in the play were represented as being oppressed and criticised figures. Claire stated that Ill turned her into a whore. She said, “the world turned me into a whore, I shall turn the world into a brothel”. She was incapable of forgiving him for the injustice he committed when he denied his paternity and married Matilda, and criticised him for his past treatment of her. The play depicted the way in which man’s power over women can be reversed.
It could be argued that Frederich Durrenmatt’s play was a condemnation of men for delaying woman suffrage. He depicted men in The Visit as creatures who were easily corrupted by money and who did not care about anybody except themselves. This is evidenced by the section that reads, “ we need credit, confidence, contracts, then our economy and culture will boom… don’t condemn us to a lifelong struggle in vain”. Ill was the key to the economy’s success, and the city folk were willing to sacrifice him for the million Claire was offering them. This depicts man as a creature with a lack of sympathy his fellow beings. It also implies that man depends on woman, as men could not recover the city’s economy without Claire’s help.
In conclusion, Fredrich Durrenmatt gave characteristics to Claire that a normal woman at the time could not have. Her arrogant, condescending attitude towards man and the nicknames that she gave to all of her husbands displayed her feelings of being above the male gender. This caused the reader to feel sympathy for the citizens. However, when Claire’s past was revealed and the reader discovered that Ill abandoned her and rejected her son, the idea was put across that Claire’s vengeance was acceptable and justifiable. Durrenmatt raised the question of the corruptibility of justice by asking whether it can be bought in return for material wealth. He painted man as being easily corruptible and displaying little empathy towards other people. This also reflected upon the time period in which the play was wrote, as it was after a war in which millions had died. It was a period in which countries appeared to care very little about people’s lives. They held the view that their goals had to be achieved no matter how many people had to die in order to achieve them. This was reflected in the play by the Guelleners’ efforts to achieve a sustainable economy. The Visit was essentially a play in which feminist views were put across against the backdrop of a morally corrupt society.