The Transformation of Women:
On Shen Te and Betty’s Negotiation with Others’ Expectations in The Good Woman of Setzuan and Cloud Nine
People do give others their expectation to make them improved or to maintain the same situation so as to keep everything as usual and organized in the way they wished to have. Nevertheless, there are people who are brave enough to change the devastating situation when they are tired of those ordering. Women are some of them and they are smart, without doubt. Sometimes, their intelligence even makes men wonder or scare and then be viewed as “treacherous” as Clive had complained to Harry. No man knows what they’re thinking at the moment. With another point of view, however, that intelligence can be used to create the self-protection which prevents harm and reproach by the unfriendly others and hostile outside world. Women make brilliant masks or disguises to hide their true self so as to conform with the convention and expectation. Yet, by concealing their inner consciousness, women suppress themselves bitterly and negotiate with the things around. As the time goes by, the transformation happened on them whether in physical or mental. In The Good Woman of Setzuan and Cloud Nine, both of the plays discuss how others’ expectations and requirements affect an individual. Moreover, how the two female protagonists, Shen Te and Betty deal with their situations. Yet, because they have different background and limit of giving out their things or identities, what I supposed is that their ways of negotiation may be various and
in what way their endings tend to be opposite. Besides, the plays also show women’s intelligence can actually make a difference.
When it comes to the colonized expectation from others, the pressure on those female figures is heavy but heavier on Shen Te. The first I want to discuss is Shen Te’s kind personality that brought her to the dilemma. She treats everyone with her whole heart but doesn’t ask for return even to her lover, Yang Sun, who acts like a beggar only craving for her money and sexual relation. Next, Shen Te’s vocation is the lowest level in the society, a prostitute, that there is no way for her to reject her customers as the society expected. Although she has been praised of being a good person, actually, she didn’t own the real respect from others. Another expectation comes from the Gods; after receiving Shen Te’s hospitality, they decided to reward her but the condition is to keep her goodness as usual because as Ronald Speirs comments in The Good Woman of Setzuan, “she is not the embodiment of untainted virtue they had hoped for” (140). Finally, the last one is about crowds’ persecution. The place Shen Te lives is a small village that when something happened, it will spread to all the residents at once. As a result, the news that Shen Te had been given a fortune by Gods and opened a tobacco shop was reported to those greedy sluggards and impoverished people. Eventually, they all came to ask for her help. Just as one of the gods spoke a crucial statement in the play, “The place is unlivable! Good intentions bring people to the brink of the abyss, and good deeds push them over the edge.” Under those
immense anticipations, it may become too tough and hopeless for a woman to live her life, so the alternative is to change the way of living in this “be good but survive” environment. As for another female protagonist, Betty, her situation is more like the chains that men and Victorian convention imposed on women that they are supposed to be submissive and supportive to their husbands. Thus, in Act one, Betty was performed by a man and this means that she has no self-consciousness to form her female identity but to fit the males’ image of “women.” For instance, women should be fragile that when those men go out for adventures, women should always stay and wait for them. Another supposed feminine quality is totally loyal to one’s...
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