At the heart of The Visit is the complex relationship between Claire and Ill, whose deep adolescent love was broken by Ill’s betrayal of her. This youthful love is the play’s only example of real love: after their relationship ended, Ill married for money, and Claire became a prostitute before flippantly marrying a series of men that she clearly neither loves nor respects. While the love between Ill and Claire is shown to have been genuine, the end of their relationship—which, for both of them, irrevocably tangled the notion of love with the quest for money—has warped and embittered them both.
Like almost everything else in the world of The Visit, romantic love is no match for money; it is but another ideal easily perverted by greed. In fact, the foundational event of the play—the motivation for Claire’s desire for revenge, and the reason that Ill and Claire live the lives they do—is Ill’s decision, forty five years before the start of the play, to leave the pregnant Claire (whom he truly loved) to marry Matilda for her money. Ill’s choice to marry for money forced Claire into prostitution to support herself, which made her think of sex (“the act of love”) as something done for profit. It’s no surprise, then, that Claire’s love was “bought” by her first husband, the oil tycoon Zachanassian, and that Claire subsequently bought her marriages to husbands two through eight, whom she considered to be disposable (“Husbands are objects for display,” she says).
Despite all of her marriages, however, Claire never ceased to be haunted by her love for Ill. Her desire to kill him is, in part, an act of revenge for his betrayal, but it is also more complicated than that. She describes her quest almost as an act of love; she wants him dead not because she hates him, but because her love for him has warped into a desire to possess him completely—to manufacture his demise and control his dead body. She says that she wants “to rebuild [their love] with my billions, I will change the past, by destroying you.” Ill will, in a sense, become Claire’s husband in death: Claire will place his corpse in a mausoleum on her estate, where he will remain eternally close to her. This proximity holds for Claire the potential to undo time and allow her to finally control the terms of their relationship.
In order to achieve her twisted dream of eternal love, though, Claire believes that she must buy it. This is directly informed by her experience of Ill buying justice (bribing false witnesses to condemn her), and her subsequent prostitution. “The world made a whore of me, now I’ll make a whorehouse of the world,” Claire says of her attempt to bribe the town into killing Ill. Thus, by buying Ill’s death (and thereby his submission to her will), Claire is buying love (which is the only way she knows how to get it), and she is also deliberately degrading the town that degraded her. By sacrificing their ideals for money, then, the townspeople become prostitutes, or people for whom love has been corrupted by money.
Love and Prostitution ThemeTracker
Love and Prostitution Quotes in The Visit
ILL: I wish time were suspended, my little sorceress. If only life hadn’t torn us apart.
CLAIRE ZACHANASSIAN: You wish that?
ILL: Just that, nothing else. You know I love you! (He kisses her right hand.) The same cool white hand.
CLAIRE ZACHANASSIAN: You’re wrong. Another prosthesis. Ivory.
ILL: (Dropping her hand, horrified) Clara, is everything about you artificial?!
BUTLER: What happened to you?
CLAIRE ZACHANASSIAN: I became a prostitute.
CLAIRE ZACHANASSIAN: The court’s verdict turned me into one.
Life has gone on, but I have forgotten nothing, Ill. Neither the woods of Konradsweil nor Petersen’s barn, neither Widow Boll’s bedroom nor your treachery. Now we have grown old, the two of us, you down at the heels and me cut to pieces by surgeons’ knives, and now I want us both to settle accounts: you chose your life and forced me into mine. You wanted time to be suspended, just a moment ago, in the woods of our youth, so full of impermanence. Now I have suspended it, and now I want justice, justice for a billion.
Zachanassian’s favorite piece. He always wanted to hear it. Every morning. He had class, all right, that old tycoon with his tremendous fleet of oil tankers and his racing stables, and billions in the bank. A marriage like that was still worthwhile. A great teacher, a great dancer, a master of all sorts of devilry. I learned all his tricks.
Human kindness, gentlemen, is made for the purses of millionaires. With financial power like mine, you can afford yourself a new world order. The world made a whore of me, now I’ll make a whorehouse of the world. Pay up or get off the dance floor. You want to join the dance? Only paying customers merit respect. And believe me, I’ll pay. Güllen for a murder, boom times for a corpse.
ILL: The town’s holding a meeting this evening. They’ll sentence me to death and one of them will kill me. I don’t know who he will be or where it will happen, I only know that I’m ending a meaningless life.
CLAIRE ZACHANASSIAN: I loved you. You betrayed me. But the dream of life, of love, of trust—this dream that was a reality once—I haven’t forgotten that. I want to rebuild it with my billions, I will change the past, by destroying you.