What is the significance of Shui Ta being accused of Shen Teh’s murder in The Good Person of Szechwan?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This accusation is made at the very end of Scene Nine, when Sun hears Shen Teh crying in the backroom and becomes convinced that Shui Ta has her locked up. When he fetched the policeman, the only thing that can be found is a pile of Shen Teh's clothes. This leads members of the crowd to shout out the following accusation:

Shen Teh's things have been found! The Tobacco King did the girl in and got rid of her!

The symbolic significance of this is clear, as it suggests that out of the two personas within Shen Teh, Shui Ta, and the kind of ruthlessness he represents, is dominating and "killing" Shen Teh. The play shows that in order to survive and do good, Shen Teh's goodness, kindness and generosity is not enough, as these qualities are simply exploited and abused by those around her. She therefore is forced to create her alter-ego, Shui Ta, who is the opposite of her, and is able to provide for those around her through ruthless business approaches. The murder accusation suggests that Shui Ta is gradually swallowing up Shen Teh. Note what Shen Teh herself says about the situation in Scene Ten:


Cannot tell what occurred: goodness to others

And to myself could not be achieved.

To serve both self and others I found too hard.

Oh, your world is arduous! Such need, such desperation!

The hand which is held out to the starving

Is quickly wrenched off!

Shen Teh therefore discovers that she needs to harden up incredibly in order to survive in this world and to do good to herself and to provide for her son. The "death" of Shen Teh that is alluded to in the murder accusation therefore symbolises the loss of the qualities evinced by Shen Teh in the play: goodness, generosity and human kindness. In the world that humans live in, the play suggests, such qualities become a positive liability.


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