Bertolt Brecht was a German dramatist, poet, and theater director whose works advocated for social and ideological issues that were leftist in nature. Brecht was born on February 10, 1898, and he passed away on August 14, 1956. Brecht was born in Augsburg, a small town in Germany and he died in East Berlin. He approached theater from a reformist perspective. Before joining the literary world, Brecht had served in an Army hospital as a doctor. He had studied medicine in Munich, from 1917 to 1921. Brechts first play was called Baal, and it was produced in 1923 (Parker 5). Brecht works reveal an anti-bourgeoisie attitude that is profoundly disappointed by World War 1. One can deduce from Brechts works that he is committed to destroying what he regarded as delusions of bourgeois art (Parker 388). Brecht uses satire and derision to mock bourgeois art. Brechts works fronted Marxist ideals. Brecht came at loggerheads with German authorities for his support of Marxist ideals, and as a result, he went into exile in 1933 (Parker 252). His first destination in exile was Scandinavia where he spent eight years. In 1941, Brecht relocated to the United States where he did some work in Hollywood. While in exile, Brechts books were burned, his German citizenship revoked, and he was subsequently banned from the German theater. Brecht wrote most of his great plays between 1937 and 1941. Brecht communist opinions in the United States got him into problems, and people started to boycott his plays. Brecht returned to Germany in 1949 where he formed his own company known as the Berliner Ensemble (Parker 526). Brecht was against theater that provides its audience with psychological relief through the display of strong emotions. He believed that an audience was likely to lose the ability to judge and think about a play if they become strongly, emotionally involved in a given play. According to Brecht, the less emotionally attached an audience was to a play, the more likely the audience would remain objective in making rational judgments and analysis of issues in the play. Brecht advocated for "epic theater" where the audience are kept as active members of a given theatrical experience (Speirs 139).
The Good Person of Szechwan is a play by Bertolt Brecht that addresses the difficulty involved in trying to be a good person in a modern and capitalist society where treachery and wickedness are prevalent. In the play, a character by the name of Shen Te tries to live by the definition of good according to values and terms of morality taught by the gods. However, most citizens of Szechwan disregard values and terms of morality taught by the gods. Shen Te neighbors and friends take advantage of Shen Tes kindness and goodness for their gain. As a result, Shen Te decides to invent an alter ego which she refers to as her cousin, who goes by the name Shui Ta. Shui Ta becomes a defender of Shen Te against people who want to exploit her goodness and kindness. Shen Te realizes that she must operate as Shui Ta and Shen Te so that she may continue living a life of goodness and kindness. The play reveals the difficulties involved in trying to live a virtuous life in a modern and capitalistic society.
The play commences with a character by the name of Wong engrossed in a monologue. Wong explains to the audience that he has heard that high ranking gods are about to visit the city of Szechwan. When the three gods arrive, everyone in the city refuses to offer them accommodation with an exception of a prostitute by the name of Shen Te. Shen Te gladly accords accommodation to the three gods. Early in the morning, Shen Te asks the gods how a human being can live an incorruptible life and at the same time, make ends meet. However, the gods do not respond to Shen Tes question; they instead give her money. Shen Te uses the money to buy a tobacco shop from Mrs. Shin with an intention of living a good and incorruptible life. After selling the tobacco shop to Shen Te, Mrs. Shin and her family start to ask for rice, money and other favors from Shen Te. Residents of the city start to solicit for many favors from Shen Te to a point she gets fed up and decides to invent a character by the name of Shui Ta who protects her from being exploited. In the real sense, Shui Ta is none other than She Te, disguised as a man and claiming to be the latters cousin. Shen Te meets and falls in love with a young man by the name of Yang Sun who does nothing but perpetually exploits Shen Te. Shui Ta comes to the defense of Shen Te on many occasions. As part of his work in protecting Shen Te, Shui Ta engages in some misdeeds. When the gods come back to the city of Szechwan, they are surprised that even Shen Te who they thought was a good person is not good after all.
The play reveals that it is impossible for a human being to uphold morals, be virtuous and good all the time in a world that is full of wickedness. The play also reveals that love and kindness could be someones undoing because many people are likely to take advantage of the persons love and kindness. Shen Tes goodness and kindness does her more harm than good. People take advantage of her goodness to the extent that she is compelled to bring out her alter ego who is known as Shui Ta for the purpose of ensuring that people cease to take her kindness for weakness. Yang Sun divulges to Shui Ta that he plans to take advantage of the love that Shen Te has for him so that he may extort money from her. Yang Sun wants to exploit the love that Shen Te has for him so that he may make his dream of becoming a pilot a reality. Shen Tes love for Yang Sun creates many problems for her. After Yang Sun leaves Shui Ta, Ta says that love is one of the deadliest weaknesses. Brecht uses alienation effect to make the audience objective in their analysis of the play. Alienation effect makes it possible for the audience to be objective in their analysis of whether a person can truly be virtuous in a world that is full of wickedness.
The elusive nature of a virtuous life
The play reveals that it is very difficult for a human being to live a virtuous life. In the play, the gods are on a quest of finding a virtuous person, but at the end of the play, it is revealed that the gods mission is elusive. As a matter of fact, one of the gods asserts "People just aren't religious anymore, let's face the fact. Our mission has failed!" Being religious in this context is associated with being virtuous and living a life that is recommended by religion and the gods rule book. One of the gods states that living a virtuous life is living a life that is worthy of human beings. The gods recognize that it is difficult for human beings to live a virtuous without the presence of support systems from society. The gods are of the opinion that virtue is strength and a virtuous man is a good man.
Therefore, it is not farfetched to say that people are only as virtuous or as good as the society that they live in. It is almost impossible for a person to be virtuous and good in a society that is full of vices, sin, and wickedness. Most of the time, human beings are a product of their society. In the play, Shen Te tries her best to be a virtuous person, but the wickedness that is in the world gets the best of her. Yang Sun is of the opinion that it is futile for a person to try to be virtuous. He is of the opinion that there will be no day on earth when all men will be nothing but virtuous individuals. Towards the end of the play, the gods appear to Wong and reveal to him that they have only found little goodness in their journey on earth. The gods discover that it is impossible for human beings to play according to their good book.
Influence of materialism on morality
The play reveals that materialism plays a major role when it comes to influencing peoples view of morality. The play reveals that economic systems compel human beings to engage in immoral behaviors so that they may fend for themselves. The play reveals that people who find it difficult to meet their basic needs are more likely to engage in immoral behaviors when compared to individuals who experience little difficulty when it comes to meeting their basic needs. It is ironic that the gods are searching for goodness among human beings yet they are doing very little to economically empower characters in the play who are economically ruined.
Influence of patriarchy on capitalism
The play reveals that patriarchy has a role to play in making a person successful in a capitalistic society. For Shen Te to become successful as a business person, she must disguise herself as Shui Ta. Yang Sun despises Shen Te as not being a prudent business person for the mere fact that she is a woman. Yang Sun alludes that women are easily swayed by emotions and cannot easily make tough decisions that business people are expected to make (Winston 192).
Brecht, Bertolt, John Willett, Tom Kuhn, and Charlotte Ryland. The Good Person of Szechwan. , 2016. Print.
Parker, Stephen. Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life. , 2015. Print.
Speirs, Ronald. "The Good Person of Szechwan." (1987). Print.
Winston, Joe. "Emotion, Reason and Moral Engagement in Drama." Research in Drama Education: the Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance. 1.2 (1996): 189-200. Print.
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