Shen Te finds that she is too warm hearted and tender to live in the world as she is. Therefore, she assumes the persona of her male cousin, Shui Ta, in order to help her exist and survive in this world where being kind and generous only seems to endanger your own chances of survival. Her cousin is a ruthless businessman. Shen Te finds it impossible to say "no" to any appeal for food, help or money, and therefore fulfills the requirements of a "good" human being as defined by the gods. When she is blessed with money and starts her tobacco shop, this only makes her destitute once more, as various friends and relatives, hearing of her prosperity, go to her in order to ask for money. Survival for Shen Te is only possible when she literally becomes another person, Shui Ta, her ruthless, business-minded cousin, who is able to build upon Shen Te's prosperity by ruthless business methods. Shen Te is unable to say no herself, but assuming a different character allows her to be ruthless and to prosper. This play is therefore a crushing indictment on a society where the only way to get ahead is to adopt ruthless capitalist doctrines that ignore the individual and his or her need.