The Good Person of Szechwan

by Bertolt Brecht

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How is the concept of survival presented in The Good Person of Szechwan?

The concept of survival is presented in The Good Person of Szechwan as something that takes precedence over everything else. Shen Teh finds this out for herself when her kindness brings her business to the brink of bankruptcy. It's only when she realizes that survival is more important than helping people out that she starts to turn things round.

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As the novel opens, the prostitute Shen Teh has been rewarded by the gods for her goodness and hospitality. They've given her the money with which to start her own business—a tobacconist's, to be precise

But it soon becomes patently obvious that Shen Teh's not cut for business, at least not this kind of business, at any rate. For one thing, she's much too kind and generous, which makes her tobacco shop a haven for the poor and dispossessed, all of whom seem to have a sob story. Inevitably, Shen Teh is unable to run her business effectively, and so it gets into serious financial difficulties.

The moral of this tale appears to be that in a capitalist economy, survival is the most important thing, not being nice to people. Shen Teh learns this the hard way, and it is only when she has transformed herself into Shui Ta, a fictitious male cousin, that she's able to turn things round.

Before long, the pragmatic, cold-blooded Shui Ta has transformed the humble, loss-making tobacco shop into a large factory with numerous employees. Evidently, the Marxist Brecht wants us to take this as a comment on the capitalist system, which involves a ruthless fight for survival between rival producers.

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