What are the themes in The Good Woman of Setzuan by Bertlot Brecht?

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In The Good Person of Szechwan (in which “woman” has often been used instead of “person”), Bertolt Brecht explores personal, ethical, and moral decisions through the lens of business. The primary theme is what constitutes moral behavior, as Brecht delves into the circumstances that justify questionable decisions. Closely related to these considerations is the theme of relative prosperity, or wealth contrasted to poverty. As Shen Te sets out to leave the sex trade and establish a successful business, she quickly realizes that she must make difficult decisions. The initial gift of a thousand dollars is enough to establish her shop, but she learns that she is too soft to make a real go of it: everyone takes advantage of her. Through the character of Shui Ta, she can exercise a ruthless streak and generate the kind of returns that will keep the shop afloat.

The other main theme, therefore, is identity. Because it seemed that Shen Te was not true to herself, the gods interrogate her methods and motivations. She understands the dynamics of personality to be gendered, in inventing her male cousin, but underestimates the effect that engaging in such negative behavior will have on her. The compassion of the gods, in allowing this alter ego to occasionally emerge, is reflected in her commitment to follow an ethical path.

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A text of The Good Woman of Setzuan presents a number of themes for discussion. The primary theme of the play relates to ideas of goodness and can best be summarized as a question: Can goodness survive in the face of petty evils and economic necessity? 

For the most part, the characters in Brecht's play fall into two categories, good and bad. The bad people are not wholly bad or evil, but take advantage of others and act out of petty selfishness. We see this in Wong, Yang Sun, and nearly all the characters in the play outside of Shen Te. 

Shen Te is given the task of maintaining her goodness by the gods, but she is forced to deal with the petty evils of her relatives, her fiance and her landlady.  The conflict of the play is driven by the question of whether or not Shen Te's, the good woman, can survive with goodness or if she will lose herself to the practical necessity of acting out of self-interest. 

Lesser themes of the play include ideas of economic strain, money- driven despair, wealth & poverty, reform, and deception. 

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