Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Shen Te

Shen Te, a prostitute in the capital of the Chinese province of Setzuan. Later, she assumes the identity Shui Ta, supposedly her male cousin and a ruthless businessman. A kind, charitable woman who cannot say “no,” Shen Te apparently is the only person left on Earth who fulfills the prerequisites of a “good” human being. Although the three gods in search of such a person reward her with sufficient money to enable her to buy a tobacco shop, she soon finds herself again in a state of destitution when the news of her new possession attracts many alleged relatives and debtors who sponge off her meager means. To survive, Shen Te is forced to play the role of an assumed cousin named Shui Ta, whose ruthless acts enable “him” to increase Shen Te’s possessions.


Wang, a water-seller. He has a naïve, unshaken belief in the power of the gods, who appear to him in his dreams at regular intervals during the play and who reveal to him their impotence in the light of Shen Te’s social dilemma. Ironically, it is through Wang’s incorrect perception of Shui Ta’s use of physical coercion toward Shen Te that the three gods are called to serve as judges.

The three gods

The three gods, nameless deities vaguely resembling a popular concept of the Christian Trinity, and with distinctly human characteristics. The first one is strongly authoritarian, the second one pessimistically cynical, and the third one noncommittally jovial. The three gods appear to be blind to the causes of human misery and, against all proof to the opposite during the final trial scene, they reaffirm their belief in Shen Te’s ability both to be good and to survive without the help of Shui Ta.

Yang Sun

Yang Sun, an unemployed airman....

(The entire section is 746 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Benjamin, Walter. Understanding Brecht. Translated by Anna Bostock. London: Verso, 1983.

Bentley, Eric. Bentley on Brecht. New York: Applause, 1999.

Bentley, Eric. The Brecht Commentaries. 2d ed. New York: Grove Press, 1987.

Casabro, Tony. Bertold Brecht’s Art of Dissemblance. Brookline, Mass.: Longwood Academic, 1990.

Esslin, Martin. Brecht, a Choice of Evils: A Critical Study of the Man, His Work, and His Opinions. 4th rev. ed. London: Methuen, 1984.

Ewen, Frederick. Bertolt Brecht: His Life, His Art, and His Times. New York: Citadel, 1967.

Fisher, James. Review of The Good Woman of Setzuan. Theatre Journal 52 (March, 2000): 20-21.