Incident at Vichy - Arthur Miller Arthur Miller’s ‘Incident at Vichy’ is a powerful example of the paralyzing effect fear can have on a person. It is 1942 in Vichy, France. The German controlled Vichy government have been in power for two years and so have the effects of the widely enacted Racial Laws.

Nine men and a boy find themselves in a dreary, empty building sitting on a bench. They were all stopped while alone on a street; a car pulls up to them and a plainclothes detective accompanied by a Professor instructs them to get in. From the moment they’re assembled on the bench with no explanations given, their location becomes relative to the guarded door to the right down a long corridor.

This play explores the themes of human behavior and responsibility. How does fear manifest itself? How much can we rationalize in the face of fear? When faced with an institutionalized system that slowly chips away at your rights, would you notice the significance of one more injustice? Would this compel you to act? Would this compel others not affected to act?

Their fates are decided within a matter of a few short hours. But these moments, fraught with tension, indecision, and terror feel anything but short. Each character copes with his situation in a different way; from the panicked painter, the self-assured arrogant businessman, the calm fatalistic Socialist , the falsely confident actor. Panic rises and abates as their questions bring forth answers that inspire dueling comfort and trepidation; why were they picked, were they all Jewish, what was to become of them. Rumours are tentatively mentioned in hushed voices; train cars full of people locked on the outside, camps for forced labour, and furnaces used to burn people.

A line is crossed during this period of waiting, as one by one, they are all taken into the corner room. The line from desperate denial to acceptance of their fate. From this infinitesimal moment onwards, their survival seems to almost be a tangible thing. And yet, fear rules as reasons opposing an escape attempt are given from hunger to weak hands. When it is just down to two people sitting on the bench, the obstreperous Doctor recently a Captain in the French Army and the gentile wrongly detained Austrian Prince, a conversation issues on how this came about and the issue of responsibility. Is it not the moral responsibility of an individual, especially one in a position of power to act against such violations?

A quote from the dialogue between these two gentlemen highlights this perfectly; “ Each man has his Jew; it is the other. And the Jews have their Jews…..It is not your guilt I want, it’s your responsibility-that might have helped…You might have done something then, with your standing, and your name, and your decency, aside from shooting yourself!”

The message this play conveys is as relevant today as it was in 1965 when it was written. It raises the important question of responsibility which all too often goes ignored or unanswered. It firmly placed the human face of fear, denial and acceptance to a situation often repeated since the Holocaust using a simple, dreary room in a vacant isolated building. I felt trapped reading it and left with conflicting feelings of anger, sadness & powerlessness.