As it herself. In Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit,

As
desperation builds up in the Central European town of Gullen, the townspeople
find hope in Miss Claire Zachanassian’s arrival, expecting to be her charity
recipient. To her amusement, she makes absurd and grotesque commands to outline
the desperation of the Gulleners that is being presented. This is how Claire
succeeded in killing Alfred Ill without doing it herself. In Friedrich
Durrenmatt’s The Visit, the
prevalence of this “Grotesque” is a key factor that is implemented to
significantly highlight the manipulation, specifically portrayed by the main villain
in the play, Miss Claire Zachanassian. From Claire’s successful manipulation,
it is clearly evident that desperation can lead people to perform actions
harmful to others.

            To understand how Friedrich Durrenmatt utilized the
“Grotesque” to underline Claire Zachanassian’s presentation of manipulation,
the definition must be set in place. The Grotesque is the distortion of logical
boundaries. This prevalent concept sets up foreshadowing in the very beginning
of the play, in Act I. It is safe to say that the abstraction refers to mostly
Claire Zachanassian and how she is easily able to control an entire town. Her
primarily dark humor suggests her seemingly absurd and outrageous commands. A prime example of these commands is
when she jokes about “buying” herself justice because, according to Claire,
“everything can be bought.” It is revealed to the audience later in the play
that Claire did literally buy justice in that she bought Boby, a former Chief
Justice, as her servant. Metaphorically, this justice is portrayed by Claire,
“I can afford justice… justice for a billion…if someone kills Alfred Ill,”
suggesting that the justice of having Alfred dead is used as a bribe to the
town, which takes place a lot as well. The frequency of bribery permits the act
itself to be considered an example of grotesque.  Another case in which a bribery takes
place by Claire Zachanassian is when she bribes the train conductor to overlook
her illegal action of pulling the train’s emergency cord in the first few
scenes of Act I.

Additionally,
the demand to have Alfred Ill killed for Zachanassian’s gain of justice is a crucial
example of her irrational orders, in which the Mayor is forced to reply on
behalf of the entire town. Unfortunately, Claire’s manipulation doesn’t seem to
work on the Mayor and other authority figures initially, upon her first
proposition. The Mayor replies to her cry for justice by saying, “We’re not
savages, yet… in the name of Gullen I reject your offer. In the name of
humanity, we would rather be poor than have blood on our hands.” This reply
reveals several things. First, the response displays that there is, indeed, greed
present, being “poor,” a greed that Claire is extremely aware of and uses to
her benefit, but not enough for the entire town to be compelled to kill one of
their own. The avarice that Claire truly uses for herself to get revenge on
Alfred is effectively translated to the townspeople as a benefit to them, but
with a consequence that is as guilty as Claire Zachanassian’s lover, Alfred
Ill. The fact that the Mayor chose to make his point with “yet” foreshadows the
unfaithfulness of the Gulleners they will express to themselves and their own
morals later in the play, in that the desperation will ultimately prevent them
from resisting compulsion. It shows that Durrenmatt will present an evident
savagery in the town in acts to come. This reaction by the Mayor displays to
the audience that he has no intention of doing this “favor” for Claire, at
least not initially, even out of hopelessness, yet in Act II, it is discovered
otherwise from the townspeople. Clearly, the Mayor got involved and agreed to
giving Claire her justice by conforming to his people’s beliefs. This frequent acclimatization
as well as the common desperation that the Gulleners had make Claire successfully
in control of what takes place in the town because of her wealth.

Her
superiority, monetarily speaking, has given her the leverage a villain needs to
complete a devious task and her dark humor that distorts the logical boundaries
and morals of the townspeople, as represented by the Mayor’s initial refusal, allows
people to feed into that manipulation. Claire proves to be successful as the
townspeople attempt on several occasions to eliminate Alfred Ill. Also, as the
familiar townspeople of Gullen begin to act with disloyalty as a result of acquisitiveness,
giving into Claire’s illogical mandates, Alfred Ill commences to find suspicion
in every action of the town: customers buying extremely expensive things,
promising to pay later, in which they know they won’t have to because he will
be dead, or the communal theme of wearing yellow shoes among the town. The idea
is fully and especially comprehended in the scene where Alfred Ill pays the
Mayor a direct visit in the Mayor’s Office at Gullen City Hall to report his
suspicions. The Mayor tries to explain to Alfred that he must, as mayor, “meet
certain moral requirements” and that he does not “condone the crimes that led
to Claire’s proposal.” With this, the Mayor is clearly separating himself
from Ill’s problems, much nearly like how his family separated themselves from
him as they know that the town is going to go through with Claire’s risible
demands for justice and don’t want to get physically involved, even though it
was a collective contribution that led to Alfred Ill’s ultimate demise. The
fact that Alfred Ill’s family and the Mayor seem to know about the final
solution to kill Alfred Ill as a town, even without physically hurting Alfred
themselves, it can automatically be assumed that they have practically condoned
the murder to take place for the better of the town. The idea that “the needs
of the many outweigh
the needs of the few,” directly correlates to this situation, sacrificing one
town member for the benefit and improvement of the town as a whole. This is a
chief example of distortion of logical boundaries that defines the concept of
the “Grotesque”. It is clear that the greater good of the town is worth killing
one society member in that the “ends justify the means,” the “ends” of which is
the reception of Claire’s prize and the “means,” being the extremes to get
Claire her justice by killing Alfred Ill. The constant exaggeration that is
noticed throughout the play is not appealing to the townspeople unless the
“ends” in this case are elaborated, which will compel the Gulleners to perform
such ridiculous tasks. Claire is seemingly superior to everyone, even to her
husbands, but this supremacy over everyone reveals her ability to entice the
town into temptation, in which there is a
sense of permanence to Claire Zachanassian’s evilness. The greed and the adherence
to ultimately annihilate Alfred Ill should have given the Gulleners a guilty
conscience even in the aftermath, after having received one billion from
Claire. Instead, the town is experiencing emptiness, having moved on with their
lives with no guilt about killing Alfred Ill and getting money for it.

            This whole assimilation allows Claire Zachanassian to use
her compulsive powers to persuade them by beguiling them with something that
the town severely lacks, wealth. In his play,
The Visit, Friedrich Durrenmatt was able to utilize the concept of the
“Grotesque” to emphasize the manipulation by Claire Zachanassian, proven
successful because her superiority and control were being fed by the
townspeople’s desperation for money and their compliance with the rest of
society. The two were so strong that even the pastor could not stand up to
fight the evil as pastors are tasked to do. Even though Claire is built of
prosthetic limbs, there is no feeling of sympathy for her because of her dark
humor that drives her manipulating nature, proving that her physical deformities
directly translate into a distorted emotional disposition and a corrupt
cognizance of personal justice. The grotesque of the artificial limbs means
that Claire is completely built up of the “Grotesque” and manipulation as a
result, where she is not a real human anymore due to a loss in humanity,
although her heart seems even less human. She is often carried into a scene on
a sedan chair lifted by two bodyguards, where her servants bow down to her as
if she were a queen. The distortion of logical boundaries used as an
exaggeration and a theme of absurdity is what highlights her successful
manipulation because no one will stand up to her due to a desperation for
money. A manipulator is defined as a person who controls or influences others
in a clever or unscrupulous way. Claire was able to control others in an
unscrupulous way, therefore deeming Claire as the definition of a manipulator.

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