In The Good Person of Szechwan, why does Shen Te need to become Shui Ta?

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

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This fascinating play critically explores whether it is possible to be good and to do good deeds without being taken advantage of and exploited by others for your goodness. Shen Te is a character who, the play reveals, is cripped by her natural goodness and generosity as others take advantage of her and parasitically benefit from her own goodness. A great part of the play to examine in detail is Scene 7, when Shen Te realises that if she is going to provide for her son, she will need to toughen up and "become" Shui Ta in order to secure her son's future. As she watches her "child" hunting for food in the dustbins, Shen Teh delivers the following soliloquy:

Henceforth, I

Shall fight at least for my own, if I have to be

Sharp as a tiger. Yes, from the hour

When I saw this thing I shall cut myself off

From them all, never resting

Till I have saved my son, if only him.

Shen Teh therefore has to become Shui Ta in order to seek to do good and look after her son. The play presents critically that it is never enough to simply be kind and generous, as Shen Teh is, as those around will always exploit such unthinking generosity. Survival in the world is only possible through becoming "sharp as a tiger." Brecht therefore makes a sad reflection on human society, as being good is shown to be a positive weakness.