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Campbell, Sara


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Dying for Approval: A Search for Acceptance in Friedrich Durrenmatts The Visit

Sara Campbell

George Mason High School
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English A Literature HL

Word Count: 1477

Campbell, Sara
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Dying for Approval: A Search for Acceptance in Friedrich Durrenmatts The Visit
People who want the most approval get the least and people who need approval
the least get the most. This quote by Wayne Dyer reflects the strange twist between
those who seek and those who receive acceptance. In the play The Visit by Friedrich
Durrenmatt, diction and irony are used to express Ills desperate desire to feel wanted as a
crucial member of society. Ills reaction to Claire Zachanassians proposal for his death
mirrors the initial reaction from town members. However, as town members experience a
dynamic change in character, they begin to fluctuate in opinion, and Ill finds his own
needs and feelings fluctuating to meet their approval.
At the beginning of the play, to Ills delight, the townspeople are opposed to
Claires shocking proposal and immediately reject it. The mayor says, Mrs.
Zachanassian, we are still in Europe; were not savages yet. In the name of the town of
Gllen I reject your offer. In the name of humanity. We would rather be poor than have
blood on our hands (Durrenmatt 35). This prompt reply is what is expected of a political
official. However, the promise of a possible escape from the towns destitution seems
impossible to ignore. The reader and Ill are both left questioning whether or not the quick
response was permanent or just the mayor acting under pressure. Ill tries to convince
himself that the town is on his side by stating, It was a mean trick I played on her as a
kid, but the way they all rejected that offer, the Glleners in the Golden Apostle,
unanimously, despite our misery, that was the most beautiful moment of my life
(Durrenmatt 41). Although he is overjoyed that they refused Claires proposition, he is
still uneasy because prosperity in Gllen is increasing. Ills heightened insecurity is
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evident as he tries to convince himself that he has nothing to worry about; he clings to
abstract words such as unanimously and rejected because to him they represent his
acceptance by the society of Gllen. The words suggest that at present, Ill is valued. Even
though he is not completely at ease, the citizens actions are enough to convince him that
they are his advocates.
As more evidence surfaces however, Ill quickly realizes that the town has
renounced him. In alarm, he seeks refuge from the town policeman and pastor, but does
not receive the support he was looking for. The pastor exclaims, Flee! We are weak
Christians and heathen alike. Flee, the bell is resounding in Gllen, the bell of treachery.
Flee, and lead us not into temptation by staying (Durrenmatt 59). Ironically, the two
members of the town that should possess the most static morals have transposed. The law
binds policemen to enforcing it and protecting citizens. In Christian religions, pastors
dedicate their lives to worshiping God and saving the souls of others. While acquiring
debt, these characters are indirectly participating in Ills demise, violating some of their
most important principles, and jeopardizing the moral stability of the town. The more
debt accumulated, the greater the need for Claires promised money, and the greater need
for Ills destruction. This dynamic change in their character is brought about by greed.
These protectors of human life lost sight of their priorities and gave material items a
greater value than human life. Their actions catalyze a state of panic inside Ill. He
declares, I am desperate. I am capable of anything. I warn you...I am determined to do
whatever it takes (Durrenmatt 61). The author includes abstract words such as
desperate, anything, warn, and determined to indicate Ills anxiety and fear.
After losing the support of even the pastor and policemen, Ill knows his prospects are
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hopeless. His words are futile and hollow because he has no intention of harming or
hurting anyone. He simply desires their support. Ill even threatens to leave town, hoping
that someone will hold him back or at least attempt to convince him to stay. However, to
his surprise, he gets responses from citizens such as, Well, Ill, have a good trip, and A
healthy, happy lifeand lots of luck in Australia (Durrenmatt 65-66). As the citizens of
Gllen cheerfully bid him farewell he interprets their actions as a rejection, and a way to
display that he is no longer wanted or needed. His life quickly loses meaning, and dying
now for the greater good seems far more appealing than eventually dying alone, so he
conforms to Claires request, and willingly stays to go to his death.
Ills manipulates his feelings about his death by persuading himself of the towns
outward appearance. He states, Nice and clean now, the old streets, lots of renovation.
Gray smoke above the chimneys, geraniums in front of the windows, sunflowers, roses in
the gardens by the Goethe Arch, children laughing, couples everywhere. Nice modern
building on Brahams Square (Durrenmatt 91). Ills positive attitude towards the beauty
of the town helps distract him from the towns inward ugliness and moral poverty. His
actions are motivated by his desire to believe he is leaving the town in a better condition;
that his death will promote good in the town. However, ironically, his death just
cultivates the immorality of the town. By quickly conforming, Ill makes it easier for the
town to get away with murder. If he truly saw the negative effect his death has on
Gllens moral character, he would back down and refuse to give up his life. Yet, this
would leave him rejected and disapproved of by the town. As a result, he turns a blind
eye to their corruption. Despite the fact that Ill is so near death, this section of the play
has a very calm demeanora sense of resignation. Not only do the words used by Ill
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such as sunflowers, children, laughing, clean, and nice, create a happy and
light tone, but they also imply that Ill is satisfied with the way his life is coming to a
close. None of these pleasant things could have come to pass if he had not conformed to
Claires proposal like the people of Gllen wanted. Now he can depart feeling gratified
and useful to the town.
In summation, as displayed throughout Friedrich Durrenmatts play, through
diction and irony, it is Alfred Ills internal emotions that motivate him to succumb to
Claire. He chooses to stay and face death not because he has given up, but because he
fears life alone and is eternally obsessed with feeling, thinking and doing what the
majority around him thinks, feels and does. Ills dependence on conforming to the
demands of the towns hierarchy is apparent in his conversation with the mayor. The
mayor suggests that Ill take his life for the sake of the community (89). Ill recognizes
that the communitys prosperity is coming at his expense. He feels shut in,
conquered, (90). When he refuses, the mayor tells Ill hes missing a chance to become
a halfway decent human being (90). Ill responds, I will submit to your decision (90).
The reader is left to wonder why Ill doesnt take his family and flee to safety. Instead, he
allows himself to be the pawn of the town. If the citizens of Gllen had remained
supportive of him, he would have happily gone on with his life. However, they
abandoned some of their most solid characteristics and were swayed by the prospects of
The play ends as nonchalantly as it began. Ills life seems to have come and gone
without incident. The author devotes little time to the sadness of Ills passing, to the
sorrow associated with the towns hasty moral declinemoney in exchange for lifeand
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things go on as routinely as before. At the conclusion of the play, the town members say
in unison, Our supper steams on the table. Content and well-shod Everyone puffs a finer
tobacco (Durrenmatt 113). The casual commentary on Ills death leaves the reader
feeling uneasy that life can go on as usual after such a terrible incident. The writing lacks
a tidy conclusion and any indication of regret from the town. Claire Zachanassians
response to his death, Get the bags packed. Were going to Capri (110) seems
celebratory. The rest of the town moves on in a similar manner as though rowing merrily
on the waves of Ills misery. The townspeople thank Claire for their newfound fortune
and freedom from debt, not Ill. Despite his efforts to be wanted, Ill was quickly forgotten.
Claire, with murderous intent and a taste for revenge, receives all the glory of the town,
she who enriched us so greatly (114) while Ill who spent his life seeking the approval
of all dies without remorse from anyone.

Word Count: 1477

Campbell, Sara
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Works Cited:
Durrenmatt, Friedrich. The Visit: A Tragic Comedy. Trans. Joel Agee. New York, NY:
Grove Press, 2010. Print.

"Wayne Dyer." Xplore Inc, 2014. 26 March 2014.

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