The Good Person of Szechwan

by Bertolt Brecht

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Student Question

Does Brecht's The Good Person of Szechwan critique a society where goodness seems impossible?

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Brecht's The Good Person of Szechwan critiques an acquisitive society in which goodness seems to be impossible by presenting Shen Teh’s deeply divided personality and showing how unexpected wealth creates more problems than it solves. Only by inventing a male alter ego, Shui Ta, can Shen Teh cope with the greedy demands of others. The gods intended to help her with their gift but cannot see how it generated negative effects.

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The Good Person of Szechwan is a strong social critique of the negative effects of living in an acquisitive society. Goodness seems out of reach, even for those who strive the hardest and are the recipients of unexpected bounty. Shen Teh, who is fundamentally a good woman, finds it so challenging to manage her new-found wealth that she is driven to create another person, a man named Shui Ta, to be the hard-hearted businessperson that she can never be. Shen Teh is constantly trying to solve problems that others create through their greed, but she generally ends up exacerbating bad situations through the ruthless acts that Shui Ta carries out. The three gods had good intentions in bestowing a thousand silver dollars on a worthy person. Because they are gods, not people, they failed to anticipate the harm that such largess could generate.

Shen Teh suffers both financially and emotionally from placing her trust in others. Yang Sun breaks her heart, and he and his mother take advantage of her in order to pursue his goal of becoming a pilot. Yet Shen Teh cannot be held blameless for others’s problems, Brecht suggests. While functioning as Shui Ta, the “good person” fails to stand up for Wang, which means that Shen Teh compromises her principles. Her male persona’s efforts to be a model owner do not balance out the negative repercussions of his generally callous behavior.

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