The Good Person of Szechuan and the Measures Taken by Brecht

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Bertolt Brecht’s concept of “goodness” is distorted in comparison with common teachings of ethicality. His writings do not fall in line with the typical plot of good versus evil. Instead, he fades the boundaries between morality and immorality and crumples up timeworn Disney like endings to produce something unexpected and unique. His plays, The Good Person of Szechuan and The Measures Taken, generate two questions. Is it possible to be genuinely good in a corrupt society and is perversion somehow necessary in order to achieve a decent society?

At first glance, it appears that the play The Good Person of Szechuan advocates good deeds but, to the horror of Catholic Sunday School teachers, an opposite viewpoint materializes. Shen Te is rendered as a goodhearted woman who is the “Angel of the Slums.” In the end, however, all her generosity and benevolence fails to produce any desirable consequences. As the altruistic Shen Te, the impoverished community surrounding her takes advantage of her kindliness, because “to extend our hand to a beggar, he tears it off for us”(9a). Her compassion only leads her to trouble and does not better the lives of those she is attempting to help, but somebody else does step in to initiate change. In order to protect her own needs seeing as “the good can‘t defend themselves“ (4a), Shen Te’s counter personality, Shui Ta, acts in a way that can be considered immoral, but his unethical ways spawn societal transformations. With his unemotional, severe and pragmatic methods, he turns Shen Te’s charity shop into a successful tobacco business and employs all those who Shen Te previously helped for free. With the creation of his business, the community can now work for themselves and not resort to pulling on the pockets of generous persons who are too sympathetic to defend their own wellbeing. Given this, it seems impossible to be truly good in a corrupt society without having to cleave yourself in two.

Repeated in The Measures...
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