The Good Person of Szechwan

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In The Good Person of Szechwan, Bertolt Brecht portrays his Marxist ideals through the actions of his characters and their reactions to their poor social conditions. The major theme of his work emphasizes that those who survive are the ones who rule not by goodness but by the evil and corruption in the society. Shu Fu, a wealthy barber, reinforces this notion that good deeds are taken advantage of in the evil and capitalistic world. As the Gods quest for a good person, they come across a man named Wang, who directs them to Shen Teh. Although she does not live by the commandments, Shen Teh convinces the Gods that it is hard to live a good life without money. To maintain her “good” reputation, Shen Teh creates an alter ego cousin, Shui Ta. While Shu Fu is very generous towards Shen Teh financially, he is not perceived as a “good” person. Shu Fu is a significant minor character in The Good Person of Szechwan as he serves to illustrate the difference in Shen Teh and Shui Ta and portrays Brecht’s perspective on goodness.

Although Shen Teh and Shu Fu lived in the same town of Szechwan, Shu Fu first notices her after she is the owner of a store. This is evident when he says, “the beauty of Miss Shen Teh, the owner of the tobacconist’s opposite, whom I have never previously noticed. I have watched her for three minutes, and I believe I am already in love…” (45-46). Although he takes great interest in her, the audience perceives that he many not have ever noticed her if she had not been the owner of her store. Shu Fu thinks of himself as a good man, especially because he offers some of his building to Shen Teh for the homeless. However, making it known that it was his doing shows that he cares more about appearing “good” rather than actually being good. Would he have done the same good deeds anonymously? He even says, “could one be more unselfish?” (61). In addition, he says “no profiting from a disappointment…by a gland alone will they acknowledged, a glance that can also signify rather more,” showing that he has self-seeking reasons instead of selfless reasons. The primary purpose of doing the good deed is selfish in nature.

Since Shu Fu is infatuated with Shen Teh, he desires for her to think that he is a good person. However, his reason to be “good” is egotistical in itself. He made sure that Shui Ta told Shen Teh that he was the one to donate his buildings to her for the homeless. The act of helping the homeless was secondary to impressing Shen Teh. When Shen Teh was having financial problems, Shu Fu offered her a blank check. When leaving, he says, “now I shall go, quietly and modestly, demanding nothing in return, on tiptoe, full of respectful admiration, not a thought for myself” (77). He emphasizes his qualities of which he portrays. He must declare himself as modest and unselfish, rather than letting his actions speak for themselves. These actions contradict the very characteristics he is bragging about because he is the one mentioning them about himself. This furthers the readers’ impression of his self-centered personality.

Indeed, Shu Fu’s generous actions towards Shen Teh were for his ulterior motives, but the role of his character shows that there is a struggle between Shen Teh and Shui Ta. Throughout the play, it is revealed that Shui Ta favors Shu Fu because he can provide Shen Teh with the financial stability that she needs for her future. However, when Shu Fu offers to marry her to salvage her store, Shen Teh declines. The reader learns that Shen Teh cannot overcome her passion for Yang Sun or her emotions. Shen Teh addresses this dilemma when she says, “I would go with the man whom I love. I would reckon what it costs me. I would not consider what is wiser. I would not know whether he loves me. I would go with the man that I love.” Shen Teh prefers to marry the unemployed pilot, who does not even love her. While talking to Shui Ta, Yang Sun discusses his plan to leave her after he takes her money. In...
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