Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The first full text of The Good Woman of Setzuan was offered for production in 1942. The play came from a mature writer who was in his ninth year of exile from his homeland, Germany. During his nomadic travels to avoid Nazi rule and certain death, Brecht was constantly in need of money. By the time he settled in California in 1941, he hoped to create a play that would have some commercial success. The Good Woman of Setzuan is, for this reason, less strident in its revolutionary preaching and less concerned with the intricacies of Marxism than most of Brecht’s earlier works.

Despite the softer approaches to revolutionary issues, this work raises the same economic question as earlier and later plays. In The Good Woman of Setzuan, as with his other plays, Brecht attacks the myth that human destiny is in the hands of gods. He replaces that myth with a call for human action to replace the social or political complacency that accepts things as they are rather than creating society as it should be.

The Good Woman of Setzuan is ranked as one of Brecht’s greatest plays, along with Leben des Galilei (pr. 1943; Life of Galileo, 1947), Der kaukasische Kreidekreis (pb. 1949; The Caucasian Chalk Circle, 1948), and Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (pr. 1940; Mother Courage and Her Children, 1941), all begun or completed in the difficult days of exile. Less political...

(The entire section is 485 words.)