The Good Person of Szechwan

by Bertolt Brecht

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Student Question

What are two expressionist elements in The Good Person of Szechwan?

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Expressionist works of art are characterised by extreme subjectivity and the use of mythic types in terms of characters, choral effects and heightened intensity in order to convey the awakening and suffering of the protagonists featured in the play. Brecht was a playwright who was certainly influenced by expressionism, even though he moved beyond this school of thought in his own work. In The Good Person of Szechwan, expressionist elements can be seen in the way that the many monologues that are used focus on the thoughts and feelings of the characters about what they are experiencing, and particularly the dilemmas they face and the suffering they are enduring. In the same way, the frequent use of verse and songs in the text are used to explore the sense of suffering of the characters in the play and the unique situations they face. This is most apparent in the character of Shen Teh, who is trying to achieve an impossible task: to be good whilst not compromising her goodness. Note how she expresses her feelings about this in the final scene in verse:

Yes, it is me. Shui Ta and Shen Teh, I am both of them.

Your original order

To be good while yet surviving

Split me like lightning into two people. I

Cannot tell what occurred: goodness to others

And to myself could not both be achieved.

Such choric effects through the use of song and verse are key elements that hark back to expressionism and some of the techniques and strategies used by expressionist playwrights to communicate the suffering and realisations of their central protagonists.

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