Ill – Alfred Ill is an older man living in Guellen. He owns a store and has a wife and two grown children. He is considered the most popular man in Guellen and would have been the next mayor in Guellen, if not for the arrival of Claire. In his youth, he had an affair with Claire Zachanassian. They had a child but Ill denied paternity.
Claire Zachanassian – Claire is a wealthy woman who grew up in Guellen. She became wealthy by marrying an oil tycoon, who she met while she was a prostitute.. Being much older than her, he died and she has married several times since. She contributes to many philanthropies and has become a celebrity the world over. She has lost several of her body parts and has a great deal of prosthetics. She is returning to Guellen for the first time since she left at the beginning of the play.
The Mayor – The Mayor initially likes Ill and intends him to be his successor. After the arrival of Claire, he tells Ill he can no longer be mayor. As the play progresses, he encourages Ill to commit suicide.
The Schoolmaster – The schoolmaster runs the local school. He has had many opportunities to leave the town but stayed because he hoped the town would rise again. He is distressed as he sees the people coming closer to accepting Claire’s offer.
The Doctor – Early in the play, Claire tells the Doctor that the next diagnosis he makes ought to be “heart attack”. Later in the play, the Doctor, along with the Schoolmaster, implores Claire to help the town without requiring Ill’s death. In the end, however, the Doctor participates in Ill’s death, and pronounces him dead of a heart attack.
Conflict Statement – The Visit tells the story of Guellen, a town in central Europe, when a wealthy woman who was raised in Guellen returns to the town seeking vengeance for the man who jilted her. The town must decide whether or not to accept the million pounds she offers for the murder of her former lover.
Act I – The people of Guellen are gathered at the train station awaiting the arrival of Claire Zachanassian. They reminisce on the town’s former glory and note how much it has fallen. They conspire to get Claire to donate money. Ill volunteers, as her former lover. Upon her arrival, Ill go off with Claire and they reminisce together. Later, they go to a town meeting where Claire announces that she will pay a million pounds for Ill’s death.Act II – The people of Guellen are outwardly decrying Claire’s offer. They are buying many expensive new items on credit in anticipation of the money. Ill goes to the police and is told that they won’t do anything. Ill finds the same thing from the mayor and the priest. The mayor does inform Ill that he can no longer be the town’s next mayor, due to the incident. The scene ends with Ill trying to flee but being unable to when the townspeople prevent him.
Act III – Some time has passed since the end of Act II. The town is booming and everyone in the town has considerable amounts of new things. Ill is terrified that he will be killed any day. The town meets and votes to accept Claire’s offer. Ill is found dead immediately following the meeting. The press is told that he dies of a heart attack caused by the joy from hearing of Claire’s endowment.
The Visit takes place of an unstated amount of time. That said, the author does a good job of making sure that it is clear that time has passed while not stating that time has passed. Between Acts II and III, the people of Guellen have amassed a plethora of new things. They have all increased their standards of living tremendously. This implies that enough time has passed for them to accomplish all of this. (Number Five)
The Visit effectively conveys the interiors of its characters quite successfully. For example, it is never stated that the Mayor may not be the best person ever, but we learn it through his actions when he attempts to coerce Ill into suicide to make his life easier. Another example is the Schoolmaster. As one of the only citizens of Guellen who are not willing to sacrifice their principles by allowing the town to murder Ill, he is frequently the only voice defending Ill. Through his actions, we learn that he is highly principled and will stand for his beliefs, even when they go against the majority. The fact that this is never stated makes this a perfect example of the conveyance of character’s personalities. (Number One)
This play does a very effective job of being both clear and ambiguous. For example, many of the changes that take place in Guellen after the arrival of Claire are a way of showing that the people are ready to accept her offer. The people never state outright that they want Ill to be murdered so that they can collect the money, but the way that they buy new things and revitalize the town shows the audience that they are more than willing to compromise their beliefs and accept the offer. In this way, Dürrenmatt effectively portrays their transformation ambiguously enough that the audience must reach the conclusion on their own.
“Life went on, and I’ve forgotten nothing, Ill… And now I want accounts settled. You chose your life, but you forced me into mine. A moment ago you wanted time turned back, in that wood so full of the past, where we spent our young years. Well I’m turning it back now, and I want justice.” – Claire, Act One
“WIth financial resources like mine you can afford a new world order. The world turned me into a whore. I shall turn the world into a brothel. If you can’t fork out when you want to dance, you have to put off dancing. You want to dance. They alone are eligible for who pay. And I’m paying. Guellen for a murder, a boom for a body!” – Claire, Act Two
“You’ve got to admit we’re playing fair with you. Up to now, you’ve kept quiet. Good. But will you go one keeping quiet? If you intend to talk, we’ll have to settle the whole business without a public meeting… I’m not threatening you, Ill, you’re threatening us. If you talk, we’ll have to act accordingly.” – Mayor, Act Two
“I wanted to help you. But they shouted me down, and you didn’t want my help either. Ah, Ill. What kind of people are we? That infamous million is burning up our hearts. Pull yourself together, fight for your life. Enlist the sympathy of the Press. You haven’t anymore time to lose.” – Schoolmaster, Act Three
“Protect all our sacred possessions, protect our peace and our freedom, ward off the night, nevermore let it darken our glorious town grown out of the ashes anew, let us go and enjoy our good fortune.” All, Act Three