Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Good Woman of Setzuan raises the question of morality in Western culture by enacting a dilemma of goodness versus survival. The issues are encompassed in the play in two basic philosophies: The Chinese yin/yang and Marxist dialectical materialism. The highly contrasting behaviors of Shen Te and Shui Ta illustrate the Asian philosophy of the yin/yang that says two sides of nature—the passive woman and the active man—make up the whole. The constant opposition between Shen Te and Shui Ta and their desperate need for one another, as well as the economic questions that their disparate behaviors raise, point to the Marxist underpinnings of this play. Out of Shen Te’s need to survive despite her goodness and generosity comes the constructive manner in which Shui Ta uses the resources at Shen Te’s disposal to multiply the wealth and thus create more for distribution. On the other hand, Shui Ta’s tightfistedness and cruelty creates a need for more of the human warmth and aid that Shen Te brings to people in misery in the slums of Setzuan.

Both the yin/yang and Marxist philosophies are poetically realized through water imagery and are dramatically stated in terms of the economic situation in Setzuan. The poverty and drought which serve as the backdrop for this play unite the two sets of ideas. The gods do not bring water to everyone; they only bring a small amount of money to Shen Te. They frequently appear to Wang, the water seller, in his...

(The entire section is 515 words.)


(Drama for Students)

Success and Failure
Shen Teh wants to succeed at being a good person. The gods give her 1000 silver dollars, and she...

(The entire section is 950 words.)