The Good Person of Szechwan

by Bertolt Brecht

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The Carpet dealer and his wife
The Carpet dealer and his wife run a shop near Shen Teh’s tobacco shop. When Shen Teh is joyous because of her relationship with Yang Sun, she buys a shawl from their shop. The couple is supportive of Shen Teh, and when they learn, she does not have enough money to pay her rent, they lend her the funds. This loan becomes problematic for Shen Teh. She does not pay them back until after the carpet dealer has fallen ill, and the couple loses their shop when they cannot pay their taxes. Like many of the people who meet them both, they appreciate what Shen Teh has done, and are afraid of Shui Ta.

Elderly couple
The elderly couple were Shen Teh’s first landlords when she moved to the city from the countryside. They made her leave when she ran out of money. However, as soon as Shen Teh opens her tobacco shop, they appear at her door with six relatives and demand lodging. They take advantage of Shen Teh’s generosity, though they also try to protect her. When creditors and beggars come into her shop, it is they who suggest making up a relative so that Shen Teh can put them off. Their suggestion leads to Shen Teh creating her ‘‘cousin,’’ Shui Ta. Shui Ta later has them and their family arrested, and puts some of their family to work in her tobacco factory. For the most part, the elderly couple only likes Shen Teh because they benefit from her kindness, and dislike Shui Ta because he is tough on them.

Shu Fu
Shu Fu is a wealthy barber who runs a shop near Shen Teh’s tobacco business. Shu Fu has both good and bad points. He attacks Wang with curling tongs, breaking his hand. Shu Fu does nothing to help the man he injured. On the other hand, Shu Fu is enamored by Shen Teh. He donates several buildings on his property to her so that she can house the homeless. He offers to marry her to save her business, though she ultimately declines. Shu Fu suffers at the hands of Shui Ta, however. When Shu Fu gives Shen Teh a blank check, Shui Ta takes advantage of the situation and writes in 10,000 silver dollars. Shui Ta turns the buildings Shu Fu donated into his tobacco factory. Ultimately, Shu Fu is a businessman, and as such, he is more like Shui Ta than Shen Teh would have liked.

The Man
See Elderly couple

Mrs. Shin
Mrs. Shin is the woman from whom Shen Teh buys her tobacco shop. The sale makes Shin a pauper, and she demands rice and money from the prostitute. Shin is not fond of Shui Ta, and seems to like Shen Teh more after meeting him. Though Shin takes advantage of Shen Teh’s goodness, Shin becomes Shui Ta/Shen Teh’s confident. Shin she figures out that they are the same person and that Shen Teh is pregnant. Shin keeps this secret as well.

Yang Sun
Yang Sun is an unemployed pilot with whom Shen Teh falls in love. Yang Sun uses her feelings to better his own situation: he never really seems to love her, though he impregnates her. When Yang Sun needs 500 silver dollars to obtain a pilot’s job, he convinces Shen Teh to give him the 200 silver dollars she just obtained from the carpet-dealer and his wife. He almost persuades her to sell her shop to get the other 300 silver dollars. However, Shui Ta learns that Yang Sun plans to leave her behind...

(This entire section contains 1929 words.)

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when he takes the job and does not really love her. Though Shen Teh still loves him and tries to marry him, the event is never consummated because Yang Sun and his mother only want the 300 silver dollars. Yang Sun eventually goes to work for Shui Ta to pay back the 200 silver dollars he owes Shen Teh, and thrives under the ruthless businessman. At the end of the play, he does seem to have some feelings for Shen Teh. When he believes Shui Ta has somehow hurt her, he gets the police to arrest him. Yet Sun stands up for Shui Ta in court. Yang Sun is only concerned with survival at any cost, and uses anyone he has to.

Shui Ta
Shui Ta is the male persona Shen Teh takes on when she needs to be a tough businessman. Ostensibly her cousin, Shui Ta stands up to those Shen Teh cannot. He tells the carpenter, Lin To, that he will only pay 20 silver dollars for his shelving and fixtures instead of the 100 that Lin To demands. Shui Ta gets rid of the elderly couple and their relatives when they take too much advantage of her. As Good Person goes on, Shui Ta stays for longer and longer periods of time. After Shen Teh discovers she is pregnant, she becomes concerned with her child’s survival and Shui Ta makes an extended appearance. He turns Shen Teh’s charity into a business, a tobacco factory, and employs all those who Shen Teh helped for free before. Shui Ta is not without a heart however. He finally repays the 200 silver dollars Shen Teh borrowed from the carpetdealer and his wife, though the couple has lost their business by that point. After Shui Ta is arrested for Shen Teh’s disappearance and appears in court, it seems this persona will not be used by Shen Teh in the future.

Shen Teh
Shen Teh is the good woman (person) that the title refers to. She is a prostitute who give the gods lodging in her home when no one else will. Shen Teh gives up a job that would pay her much needed money. When the gods leave the next morning, Shen Teh tells them that it is hard to be good when poor. They give her a thousand silver dollars. She uses the money to buy a tobacco shop. As soon as she does, many people take advantage of her kind nature. Though she gives rice to people like Mrs. Shin, the woman also demands money. To save herself, Shen Teh invents a cousin, Shui Ta, who is a hard-nosed businessman. As the play progresses, she finds herself slipping into this persona more often and for longer periods of time.

In the second half of the play, one reason Shen Teh feels she has to be Shui Ta is because of her troubled relationship with Yang Sun. She is in love with him, but he is mostly using her. They do not marry because Shui Ta does not come to their wedding and pay out 300 silver dollars. Shen Teh also becomes pregnant by Yang Sun, and feels she must provide for her child. The only way to do this is to be Shui Ta. At the end of the play, many people she has helped wonder where she has gone to. To that end, Shui Ta is arrested. Before the gods, who act as magistrates in the court, Shen Teh admits she is Shui Ta, and tells them it is next to impossible to be good and survive. The gods are happy that she is still good, but provide no solutions to her problems. Shen Teh is again alone and has to find her own way in the world.

Lin To
Lin To is the carpenter who built the shelving and fixtures in Shen Teh’s tobacco store. Though he built this woodwork for the previous owner, Lin To claims Shen Teh owes him 100 silver dollars for the work. Shen Teh does not have the money, and it is only when she becomes Shui Ta that she can force a lesser fee on him. This leads to bankruptcy for the carpenter, Lin To and his family move into the buildings that Shu Fu donates to Shen Teh, and later works for Shui Ta in his tobacco factory.

Mrs. Mi Tzu
Mrs. Mi Tzu is the owner of the building which houses Shen Teh’s tobacco shop. The landlady demands six months of rent (200 silver dollars) in advance when she learns of Shen Teh’s reputation. This is another factor in the creation of the Shui Ta persona, though Shui Ta cannot talk Mi Tzu out of the price. At one point, Shui Ta considers selling the shop’s stock to Mi Tzu so that Yang Sun can get his job, but it is then that Shui Ta learns that Yang Sun does not really love Shen Teh. Later, Shui Ta makes a deal with her to rent workshops and expand the tobacco factory. Mi Tzu is one of the only characters to stand up for Shui Ta in court at the end of the play.

Wang is the impoverished water seller who helps the gods when they first arrive in the city. Realizing their importance, he goes from house to house, person to person, trying to find them lodging for the night. Wang finally leads them to Shen Teh, who takes them in. After the gods leave, they tell Wang to report Shen Teh’s progress to them. Wang visits Shen Teh regularly, and like many characters, likes her very much and dislikes her cousin, Shui Ta. When Wang’s hand is broken by Shu Fu, the barber, Shen Teh is the only one to stand up for him, even though she would perjure herself. Shui Ta will not do it for him. Later Shen Teh gives him her cart to sell so that he can go to a doctor. Wang is one of the characters who gets the police when Shen Teh is gone for a long time. He tells the gods that Shen Teh may have been killed by Shui Ta, ensuring the gods will finally come back to check on her.

The Woman
See Elderly couple

Mrs. Yang
Mrs. Yang is the mother of Yang Sun. She is the one who originally asks Shen Teh for the 200 silver dollars so that he can obtain his pilot job. Though she is not impoverished, she takes advantage of Shen Teh as well, though always for her son’s benefit. Mrs. Yang prefers Shui Ta to Shen Teh. She holds up her son’s wedding waiting for Shen Teh’s cousin to arrive. When he does not, the wedding does not happen. Later, Mrs. Yang believes that Shui Ta saves her son when he hires Yang Sun to work in the factory. Mrs. Yang champions Shui Ta to the very end of the play.

The gods
The three gods are prominent gods who have come to earth to find at least one good person, otherwise the world will not go on as it is. Their quest has led them to this city, the capital of Szechwan. Here, Wang finds them a good person, Shen Teh, who is only one to offer them lodging in her home for a night. They give Shen Teh a thousand silver dollars so that she can continue to do good. After they leave the city, they continue on their quest, but to no avail. They monitor Shen Teh’s progress via Wang, but refuse to help her when times get tough. At the end of the play, they serve as magistrates in Shui Ta’s hearing over Shen Teh’s disappearance. Though Shen Teh tells them how hard it is to be good, they leave her and the earth, content that she is trying. They offer no solutions to her probolems.




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