The Good Woman of Setzuan

Shen Te's Pursuit of Self-Interest

Lennox (1978) argues that Brecht was “unable to see real women in their full dimensions” perhaps due to “a terror of women like that possessed by many men”. Accepting this, Brecht’s portrayal of women is in terms of stereotypes only slightly modified by his “political concerns” (ibid). Brecht’s policy of “making strange” (Williams 1987, pp. 279) is therefore opposed to portrayal of stereotypes, as stereotypes can be defined by their familiarity. Williams (ibid) states that Brecht’s aim was to show men “in the process of producing themselves and their situations” in keeping with the Marxist theory of history where man “makes himself”. To assess whether Shen Te represents a weakness in Brecht’s play, then, it must be considered whether she produces herself and her situations or if she conforms to stereotypes.

The Good Woman of Setzuan is one of Brecht’s fable plays in which the familiar and simplistic elements of good, evil, justice etc are present but shown in a new way, as “cases for debate” (Williams 1987, pp. 284). In this mindset, Lennox may be missing the point of the requirements Brecht makes of his spectators to think “above the flow of the play” (ibid: 279) as the presentation of the familiar (in this case, stereotypes of...

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