Incident at Vichy | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Incident at Vichy | Plot Summary

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Summary

Arrival at the Place of Detention

An atmosphere of palpable anxiety and fear permeates a grimy, barren room. The documents of possible refugees and Jews are being processed. Six men are lined up on a bench. One of the men Lebeau is an artist. The electrician Bayard is next to him. The businessman Marchand and the actor Monceau are also present. The gypsy is an unnamed character. The waiter is another unnamed character among the six men. The boy of 15 is an additional unnamed character lined up on the bench. These seven individuals have been rounded up off the street and brought in to a detention center for their papers to be checked. They are terrified because most of them are Jews.

Lebeau is the most agitated and vocal of the men. He is hungry, afraid, and impatient. He talks to Bayard who tries to calm him down. Marchand is a confident businessman at the far end of the bench. He is first in line to be seen and appears to be in a hurry. He is not as fearful as everyone else. He tells Lebeau that the police are making a routine identity check because the Germans are taking charge in Vichy. The Germans suspect there are many people in Vichy France with false papers. Lebeau continues his nervous chatter and tells Bayard that the men who picked him up measured his nose, his mouth, and his ears. Lebeau thinks they are looking for unwanted races of people in Vichy.

The gypsy has a copper pot at his feet, and Lebeau assumes he stole it. The gypsy does not speak well. He claims he was fixing the pot when the police brought him in. The waiter speaks up and says the gypsy is always begging on the street. Major then comes out of the office. He walks with a limp and tries to ignore the men. The waiter is proud to know Major who he serves breakfast to in the restaurant nearby. Marchand interrupts Major to ask to use a telephone, but Major ignores him.

The Arrival of More Prisoners

More people enter at the end of the corridor. The First Detective comes in with the Old Jew. The Second Detective enters holding the arm of the doctor Leduc. The Police Captain comes in with the Austrian aristocrat Von Berg. The professor arrives last. Marchand goes into the office with the professor whose expertise is in the field of racial anthropology. After Marchand goes in, Bayard wants to reveal something to the rest of the men. He says he has seen freight cars in the rail yard locked from the outside. He has heard the sounds of many people inside them. Bayard suspects they are Jews being taken to concentration camps in Poland. Von Berg speaks up and wonders if they have all been arrested because they are Jewish. The rest of the men do not understand why an Austrian nobleman has been brought in with them because he is not Jewish. It makes them hopeful they might be released. Von Berg explains that the Nazis hate the nobility because the nobility is too refined. The Nazis consider refinement decadent. Von Berg tells the detainees most of the Nazis are working-class people.

The Destination of the Trains Leaving the Rail Yard

Marchand leaves the office having received a white pass. He is allowed to exit the building and hurries out. The gypsy goes in next but does not come out. The Police Captain emerges and wants Bayard to come into the office. Bayard is interrupted by the café proprietor Ferrand who brings coffee. Bayard is relieved because his knees are shaking so badly. Bayard, Monceau, and Leduc engage in a discussion about how to act when called into the police captain's office. Monceau tells Bayard he has to act confident. Leduc agrees and tells Bayard he must not act like a victim because that is what the police want. Von Berg maintains that there are some decent people among the working class and among the aristocracy. He believes they are the ones who will save the world from destruction. Bayard maintains that the working class will destroy fascism because it is against their interests. Von Berg disagrees and argues that the working class adores Hitler.

Ferrand comes out of the office and tells the waiter that he has heard the trains are not taking people to work in labor camps. They are taking them to Poland to burn them in furnaces. The waiter tells the men that the police are going to examine them to see if they are Jewish by checking whether they are circumcised. The professor comes out to get the waiter who runs off to the guard. The Police Captain then comes out, grabs the waiter, and forces him into the office. The waiter never leaves the office. The gypsy and Bayard are likewise never seen again.

Sympathy from Major

Major shows signs of sympathy for the group of detained men. He tells the professor that it is possible that some Gentiles are circumcised. The professor claims that his degree is in racial anthropology and that circumcision is one way to distinguish Jews from Gentiles. Major admits that he himself is circumcised, and he decides to leave. He says he is not suited for this assignment. He is a line officer and an engineer. The professor objects to him leaving, and Major convinces the professor that he is only going for a walk and will be back in 10 minutes.

All Are Taken except Leduc and Von Berg

Leduc wants to overpower the guard and escape. The boy of 15 wants to help him but no one else does. They believe they will be shot. The boy of 15 asks if Von Berg will be released, and Von Berg says he probably will because he is not Jewish. The boy of 15 then asks him to take his mother's ring to the pawnshop and get money for it because his family has no food. Lebeau is now exhausted and believes he will be killed because he is a Jew. He talks about how he began to believe that he should be ashamed of being a Jew. Monceau points out to Leduc that every country finds a group of people to condemn and persecute. Leduc and Monceau argue. Leduc tells Monceau that he is passively waiting to be killed. Monceau tells Leduc that it is Jews like him who give all Jews a reputation for subversion and discontent.

Major returns and warns the men not to try to overpower the guard. Leduc pleads with him to help them. Major turns the tables on Leduc and asks him if he would depart in return for leaving all the others in the place of detention. The boy of 15 and Monceau go into the office. Leduc, the Old Jew, and Von Berg remain behind. Leduc asks Von Berg to find his wife and tell her he has been taken. Leduc wants him to tell her about the furnaces. Leduc is angry that Von Berg will survive because he is a non-Jewish aristocrat. Von Berg says he had to leave Austria because of the indifference of the people to the persecution of the Jews. The professor comes out for the Old Jew. The Old Jew refuses to go and clings to his bundle. The professor knocks it out of his hand, and it is revealed to be full of white feathers.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Leduc and Von Berg are alone and debate about ideals. Von Berg argues that there are still people with ideals, but Leduc argues that everyone has their Jew, the "other." They feel justified to hate and kill those whom they regard as the "other." The professor comes out for Von Berg. When Leduc is alone he takes out a knife. It is not clear if he intends to kill himself or the guard. Von Berg comes out of the office with a white pass that guarantees his freedom. Von Berg angrily gives his white pass to Leduc. He also gives him the ring that the boy of 15 asked him to pawn for his mother. Leduc takes the pass and leaves. The Police Captain, Major, and the professor come out of the office. Major and Von Berg confront each other and try to understand what the other is feeling. More prisoners are brought into the detention room.

Incident at Vichy Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675

Introduction

1 Lebeau, Bayard, Monceau, three others, and a boy are seated.

Rising Action

2 Von Berg, Leduc, and the Old Jew are brought in.

3 The detainees hear of people being locked in packed trains.

4 Three of the detainees never come out of the office.

Climax

5 Major is sympathetic but unhelpful.

Falling Action

6 Von Berg enters the office and comes out with a white pass.

Resolution

7 Von Berg forces the pass onto Leduc who quickly leaves.

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