Dürrenmatt and Women Rights in The Visit





Dürrenmatt and Women Rights in The Visit

The Visit is a 1956 play that was written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The main plot in the play revolves around the life events of a wealthy woman with a treacherous plot to involve the whole town in killing her former lover in exchange for funds to revamp the derelict town. In the course of the twentieth century, the second liberation movement of women was focused on breaking down the unfair pay situation across the gender divide. The movement attempted to alter the overriding assumption that women are inferior to men. Consequently, women were not able to realize the full suffrage in Switzerland until 1971. Friedrich Dürrenmatt was at the forefront in endorsing the rights and privileges of women since Switzerland remained the only European country that refused to allow women to vote. In that context, the scriptwriter Friedrich Dürrenmatt placed the characters in The Visit to further his cause of fighting for women rights. The author made this intention clear through the protagonist, Claire Zachanassian, who wielded the power of money and enjoyed the comfort of marrying several occasions and owned a number of servants. In the same way, the author also illustrated the emancipation of women through another actor, Daughter of Alfred Ill who was able to access the highest levels of education.  In 1956, women assumed a lower financial and social position when compared to men. Furthermore, women were not permitted to own and control any assets or finances, which were assumed to be a luxury exclusively for men. In an open disregard for the gender imbalance at the time, Claire Zachanassian was in possession of money and other financial assets. In fact, she represented one of the richest and influential women in the world.

The level of her power and wealth was such that she had the ability to dispense ten million dollars to avenge Alfred III who betrayed and lied to her. In addition, Claire also exhibited aspects of aggression at a level that was uncommon among women at the time. She summoned her servants by their first names and using a domineering tone. This was indicative of her disrespectful and impolite manners. From this scene, it illustrated the way in which she brought the whole of Güllen to a standstill in her quest to throw the town into economic depression by purchasing all the shares. In this situation, the townspeople were prepared to accept bribes mainly because they were poor and assumed that Claire Zachanassian could change the state of their town with her generous donation. At the very least, Claire Zachanassian held the whole town hostage through her vast financial power. However, she used her power to influence people to kill Alfred Ill for her.  In the play, Claire brags that she “…owned those too. And all the factories, Puckered Valley, Petersens’ Barm, the entire township; street by street and house by house (Dürrenmatt 34).

Different phrases throughout the play referring to ownership, control and dominance are enough evidence that Claire was self-centered and secure about her influence within the municipality. Within the play, she particularly flaunted out her wealth all over the town which was an indicator of her influence in a field conventionally overrun by males. Therefore, Claire Zachanassian represented a political and social leader in the town with significant influence after she improved the infrastructure of the town and manipulated the residents into supporting her interests. Consequently, encountering women such as Claire Zanchanassian in the early 20th century was rare. It was common knowledge that the environment in Switzerland restricted the rights of women. Within the society, women were denied the right to know and select their husbands before the marriage ceremony. Conversely, husbands were allowed to have full control over their wives within the home context and outside it. Women were not even allowed to make their own decisions. Friedrich Dürrenmatt was interested in supporting women to realize increasing rights in the public since in his plan, he intended for women to enjoy the same benefits as men. Nonetheless, Claire Zachanassian went against the traditional conventions in the context of The Visit.

In terms of gender balance within the marriage institution, Dürrenmatt was clear in bringing out the triumph of women over their male counterparts. Traditionally, men had full control over the decisions concerning choice of partners, marriage and life within the home setting. This was the reason behind the statement “Would you like to meet my seventh husband, Alfred?” (Dürrenmatt 21).  In a way, she was pleased to point out that she had seven husbands, a feat that defied the social convention during the early 20th century when women generally married once only. Claire Zachanassian’s arrival at Güllen was unique since she came with her seventh husband and even had the audacity of introducing him to Alfred III who Claire’s previous lover. Seven husbands married by one woman illustrates that Claire disregarded the conventional practices of marriage and even went as far as marrying the eighth man. This event was towards the end of the play when Claire had a wedding in the town. In the play, Claire notes that the “…eighth wedding will be gigantic. She announced their engagement yesterday” (Dürrenmatt 42). It is clear in the conversation that she met her eighth fiancé while in town and became engaged to a man on her own volition since she announced their engagement by herself.

The ensuing discussion among the townspeople was excellent proof of the boldness of the marriage decision by Claire Zachanassian. Therefore, Claire Zachanassian enjoyed the benefit of choosing her own husband and this appeared to be a big challenge to the customs, apart from the fact that she had numerous husbands. Claire not only owned several businesses and numerous husbands, she also had significant influence. Nonetheless, Claire Zachanassian, a neglected woman, after decades of waiting, acquired sufficient capital to revenge her lover Alfred III. She was an independent protagonist in the play who was strong enough to use her own power to accomplish her revenge. Claire Zachanassian amassed power by herself, a feat that was quite unacceptable and difficult during a period when women were completely manipulated by men all. However, Dürrenmatt created the protagonist in a different way. In the play, she had enough power to control the four spiritual leaders in the town namely the mayor, the priest, the policemen, and the doctor. All of these learned and influential people occupied the highest positions in the town and worked independently for a long time until they encountered Claire Zachanassian. The three men had always been referred to as the conscience of Güllen while their jobs were the symbols of justice. The threshold of justice has usually been higher than monetary benefits and this implies that it would be very improbable that justice officials could be bought. However, all these state officials opted to work alongside Claire Zachanassian to punish III and collaborated in his murder after being bribed.

One of the ways in which Dürrenmatt brings out the issue of women’s rights is through the triumph of the female protagonist over the male counterparts. The doctor was manipulated into proclaiming the death as a heart attack instead of a murder, which was a lie, while the mayor was the one who helped further the lie with the doctor (Dürrenmatt 97). The mayor also announced that III was too happy to hearing about Claire Zachanassian was going to donate money to the town which caused his death. However, this was not entirely true. In other words, Claire Zachanassian used her money and power to overpower the four top officials and the rest of the townspeople.

Money that Claire acquired acted as an avenue for power and business. However, Claire Zachanassian was a rich woman; she could also exploit her money to realize other goals that she wanted. In addition, Dürrenmatt not only used Claire Zachanassian as a central example of the realization of women rights, he also expressed his opinion through Daughter of Ill. In early twentieth century, women were not permitted to acquire any form of education since men were the only people who were expected to support the whole society while women were not expected to have any responsibilities outside the home. However, Daughter of Ill had a different character. She continued her study in French, literature and history. This is clear in the text where “Ottilie’s taking her advanced in French and German” (Dürrenmatt 167). Mother of Ottilie, who was the wife of Ill, said that her daughter was enrolled in the advanced education. In other words, her daughter was still getting a higher education even though the society did not permit women to do so. Furthermore, she addressed her father in French and displayed her prowess in the language to an extent that it seemed like a native language. “Au revoir, papa” that was said by Ottilies to Schill (Dürrenmatt 84). Au revoir meant goodbye in English. However, Ottilies spoke and understood French perfectly. It was difficult for women to acquire education, but Ottilie learned a greater deal than most than most ordinary women. She learned in the advanced classes in both French and German. Enjoying the rights to acquire higher education is a significant indicator of the author’s support towards women’s rights. The author made a big distinction between Claire Zachanassian and III, one a billionaire owner of multinational oil companies; the other was a small store owner. This big gap represented what the author was supporting in Claire Zachanassian. She had rights to chose a husband and employee workers to serve her. However, the saddest thing was the ending; Claire Zachanassian ended up with nothing apart from the dead body of III. Claire Zachanassian was mostly motivated by wealth, Güllen people and her former love life. Similarly, the play reflected the social changes and the male presence that influenced Claire Zachanassian. The social environment was largely governed by money initially and devoid in human nature. The dismal experience with Claire Zachanassian was created by the male-dominated society and the fact that III had initially abandoned her. Therefore, the author used the comedy thesis to articulate a sad story. The author included this conclusion with the intention of allowing the reader to sympathize with Claire Zachanassian because she seemed to be a winner. However, in the end, she was actually the loser. She presented an image that women had started to fight for their rights and were trying to eliminate the unfair treatment against women. They would not be subordinated to men; they had their own feelings and had the courage to tackle the injustices in society. In the end, it was clear that women should be equal to men.


Work Cited

Dürrenmatt, Friedrich. The Visit. Trans. Patrick Bowles. New York: Grove, 1962. Print.

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