Refund by Fritz Karinthy Summary

Summary of the Play: Refund by Frigyes Karinthy in English


About Author:

Frigyes Karinthy was a Hungarian satirist who lived from 1887 to 1938. He was an accomplished novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist, and playwright. He studied to be a teacher because he was deeply interested in natural sciences, but instead became a journalist and joined the literary periodical Nyugat. He was a strong philosophical and humanistic thinker who spoke out against the barbarism and horrors of World War I. His works, including That’s How You Write (1912), Journey Around My Skull (1939), Please Sir (1916), and Professor, earned him widespread acclaim.

The play Refund, written in 1938, is about a man in his forties who returns to the school where he had studied and demands a refund of the fees he had paid eighteen years before, claiming that he had learned nothing useful at school and is now useless. Percival Wilde, an American playwright, adapted this play for a general audience. Refund highlights Karinthy’s literary art’s extraordinary sense of parody and wordplay. The play is full of humour and deals with a ridiculous situation.

Short Summary:

Wasserkopf, a former student, unexpectedly returns to his old school. He had gone there nearly eighteen years before. He enters the Principal’s office with arrogance. He tells the Principal his name. He gives a negative response to the Principal’s questions. He informs him of his failures and demands a refund of the tuition fees he paid for his education eighteen years ago. He believes he has not gotten his money’s worth and knowledge from their education. He expresses his and his friend Leaderer’s feelings about him. He demands a re-examination and threatens the Principle with a complaint to the education minister if his request is denied.

The Principal asks him to wait and convenes an emergency meeting of the masters. They have a serious discussion about the issue. The masters decide to give him the test and ask him simple questions. They decide to assist one another by declaring his incorrect answers correct.


Wasserkopf confronts each teacher one at a time. To irritate them, he refers to them as loafers. He calls them derogatory names and responds inanely. The teachers are pleased with his responses. He has been gifted with excellent patriarchal manners, gentlemanliness, courtesy, physical culture, alertness, perseverance, logic, and ambition.

His history professor asks him a simple question. “How long was the ‘Thirty Years’ War?” In his first question, he answers incorrectly as ‘seven meters’. Through their reasonings, both the History and Mathematics masters prove his answer correct.

The Physics master then asks him a simple question about optical illusions. In response, Wasserkopf refers to the master as an ass. However, with proper reasoning, his answer is accepted as the correct answer. The Geography teacher asks him to say the capital city of Brunswick, a German province. The answer, according to Wasserkopf, is “Same.” It is claimed by the masters to be the correct answer.

The Mathematics master then asks a meaningless question about the circumference of a polyhedron with 109° sides. Even the data used in the calculation is meaningless. According to Wasserkopf, the answer is 2629 litres. The master becomes enraged when he realizes his answer to a simple question is incorrect.

The master then instructs Wasserkopf to calculate the amount of fees to be refunded. He describes it as a difficult question. Wasserkopf computes the total and provides an exact answer.

Each teacher questions him and justifies his incorrect answers as correct, and they all give him high marks. Even though Wasserkopf gives incorrect answers and uses abusive language toward each master, they do not show their displeasure because they must prove him to be an excellent student to expel him. Finally, his masters declare him excellent and expel him from school.

Main Summary:

This amusing one-act play “Refund” was written in 1938 by a well-known Hungarian playwright named Frigyes Karinthy. Percival Wilde, an American playwright, adapted and translated this one-act play. This absurd and satirical play satirizes today’s education system, which is quite backward in terms of preparing good students for the future. This play contains an extraordinary situation that has resulted in extreme humour.

The theme of this play is wit and unity. This play is about a former student of a school in Hungary named Wasserkopf who returns to his former school and demands a refund of the tuition fees he paid eighteen years ago, claiming that he learned nothing useful at school and is now useless. This play demonstrates teachers’ excellent ability to manage the situation and deal with Wasserkopf without jeopardizing their school’s reputation.

Wasserkof is a rude man who speaks in an abusive tone. He is unable to obtain employment. Even if he gets a job, he won’t be able to keep it for long. People tell him that he is unfit for anything and hasn’t learned anything worthwhile in school wherever he goes to apply for a job.

He once ran into an old classmate, Leaderer, on the street. When Leaderer discusses foreign exchange investment and the Hungarian currency with him, Wasserkopf expresses his inability to comprehend them. He begins to inquire about foreign exchange. Leaderer claims that if he doesn’t know something as trivial as this, he hasn’t learned anything in school. He advises him to return to his school and request a refund of his tuition fees.

Wasserkopf, who is unemployed and penniless, regards it as a good idea that will benefit him. So, after eighteen years, he returns to his old school and demands his tuition fees back, claiming he hasn’t learned anything and that they haven’t taught him anything worthwhile. After hearing such an absurd demand, the principal is taken aback. Wasserkopf has even threatened to go to the education minister if he is not given justice. He demands a re-examination and demands his money back if he fails. The principal becomes perplexed and finds himself in an unusual situation, so he calls an urgent meeting of all the masters.

They decide to re-examine him and agree to prove his answers, whether correct or incorrect, correct. They realize that Wasserkopf will purposefully fail the exam by giving incorrect answers to receive a refund from the school. As a result, the entire staff decides to outwit him and work together to help each other. Wasserkopf uses abusive and derogatory language toward each master to be expelled from school. However, the masters outwit him by demonstrating his superiority in Manners, Physical Culture, Alertness, Perseverance, Logic, and Ambition.

The history teacher politely asks him to take a seat, but his response enrages the teacher. The master waits patiently and begins his question. The first question he asks is how long the ‘Thirty Years War’ lasted. The answer is whispered loudly by the physics master, and the geography master shows his ten fingers three times. Even though the answer is contained within the question, Waaserkopf is eager to provide a false answer and claims that the war lasted seven meters. All of the teachers become paralyzed. When the history master is unable to prove his incorrect answer, the mathematics master steps in.

He claims that years can be represented in terms of meters by Einstein’s relativity theory and that the actual war lasted only seven years. Because the war lasted only one day (twelve hours), it lasted 15 years. The master subtracts three hours per day for combatants’ eating from 15 years, reducing 15 years to 12 years. He subtracts several hours for midday siestas, peaceful diversions, and non-warlike activities. He finally reaches the age of seven and wipes his brow. As a result, the candidate’s answer of seven meters is correct in Einstein’s equivalence of seven meters.

The physics master then inquires about the clocks in the steeples of the churches. He wonders if it’s because of the optical illusion that the church’s clock shrinks when someone walks away from it. In response, Wasserkopf refers to the master as an ass. However, the master accepts the answer as correct. The reason given is that an ass has no imaginative abilities because it is a sad creature. The master claims that it must be an optical illusion, and Wasserkopf responds metaphorically.

The geography teacher then asks him to name the capital city of the same name Brunswick, a German province. Wasserkopf, on the other hand, responds with the word ‘same.’ The master proves his correct answer by claiming that the city also has another name, ‘Same.’ According to legend, the emperor Barbarossa was riding through the city when he met a peasant girl. After wishing her a “God Bless You,” he inquired as to the name of the city. While munching on a bun, the girl replied, “Same to you, sir.” The emperor, however, mistook the city name for ‘Same.’ As a result, masters rate Wasserkopf highly in geography. Finally, the mathematics master approaches him to ask him a question. He declares that he is going to ask Wasserkopf two questions, one easy and one difficult.

First, he asks him a simple question about the circumference of a 109° sided polyhedron, but the data is irrelevant for the calculation. Wasserkopf provides an incorrect response. The math teacher becomes enraged and declares that his answer is incorrect. So he tells Wasserkopf that he is entitled to a tuition refund. Then he asks for the exact amount he needs. Wasserkopf tells them the exact total is 5682 crowns and 38 hellers, and the grand total is 6450 crowns and 50 hellers, oblivious to the teachers’ trap. At this point, the mathematics master declares his correct answer to his difficult question. All of his answers are correct, according to all of his teachers. They give him honours in all subjects and expel him from school.

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