The Good Person of Szechwan

The Good Person of Szechwan by Bertolt Brecht is a play with music following a young prostitute, Shen Te as she struggles to lead a life that is "good" according to the terms of the morality taught by the gods and to which her fellow citizens of Szechwan (Sichuan) pay no regard, without allowing herself to be abused and trod upon by those who would accept and, more often than not, abuse her goodness. Her neighbors and friends prove so brutal in their filling of their bellies that Shen Te is forced to invent an alter ego to protect herself: a male cousin named Shui Ta, who becomes a cold and stern protector of Shen Te's interests. The theme of qualitative "goodness" (which seemed so simple and obvious in the title of the play) is rendered unstable by application to both genders, as Shen Te realizes she must operate under the guise of both in order to live a good life. It has been argued that Brecht's use of the literary device of the split character in this play is a representation of the antagonism between individual-being and species-being that underlies bourgeois societies.

The First God is the leader of the three gods who come down to earth in search of a good person. When Shen-Te offers them shelter for the night after they are refused by her neighbors they bestow upon her the burden of goodness and offer money for her to buy a tobacco shop in order for her to build a better life as a shopkeeper. However, because of their expectation for her to maintain a good life Shen-Te is forced to split herself to avoid being taken advantage of. Throughout the play they travel the world searching for others to match her goodness, finding nobody, and then reveal her deception at the end of the play to her neighbors and leave her to fend for herself.

The Wife is the first neighbor to take advantage of Shen-Te’s goodness and her original landlord. She demands shelter and tobacco, inviting more and more family members to join them at Shen-Te’s shop until it is bursting at the seams. This is what instigates her shift into Shui-Ta.