The Good Woman of Setzuan

The Good Woman of Setzuan Quotes and Analysis

"'The world can stay as it is if enough people are found living lives worthy of human beings.' Good people, that is."

Third god, page 7

The third god reads aloud the resolution that has caused the gods to come to Earth in the first place. They arrive at Setzuan looking for good people, but so far have found no one that will let them stay the night in their home. By commenting on the resolution's wording of "living lives worthy of human beings" as "good people, that is," the third god presents the a definition of goodness that will be challenged throughout the play.

"The little lifeboat is swiftly sent down.

Too many men too greedily

Hold on to it as they drown."

Shen Te, page 21

Shen Te says these poetic words to herself at the end of Scene 1, as many people have taken advantage of her kindness. An entire homeless family has invited themselves to stay in her tobacco shop, and Mrs. Shin has been getting rice for free from her. These words acknowledge that Shen Te cannot help everyone; if she tries, nobody will survive, including herself.

Carpenter: "Call Shen Te, someone! She's good!"

Shui Ta: "Certainly. She's ruined."

Carpenter and Shui Ta, page 26

In Scene 2, Shui Ta has appeared for the first time. He has told the homeless family that they cannot stay at Shen Te's tobacco shop, and he has told the carpenter that he will not pay the exorbitant price the carpenter is demanding for the installation of the shelves. The carpenter is appalled because he knows that if he were dealing with Shen Te instead, he could get the price he wants. Shui Ta equates "good" with "ruined" to prove the point that Shen Te cannot help everyone without going under herself.

"Love isn't bought and sold like cigars, Mr. Shui Ta."

The policeman, page 31

The policeman says these words to Shui Ta about Shen Te's previous profession of prostitution, as an explanation of why it was abhorrent. However, this idea also applies to the way Yang Sun thinks of love; though Shen Te really cares for him, he only wants to marry her if it means he can take her money to get a job for himself as a pilot in Peking. Though Yang Sun has not been introduced at this point in the play, these words will ring true for Shen Te (she is hearing them as Shui Ta) later.

"Shen Te is a woman: she is devoid of common sense. I only have to lay my hand on her shoulder, and church bells ring."

Yang Sun, page 59

Here Yang Sun describes to Shui Ta, whom he obviously does not know is actually Shen Te in disguise, how he takes advantage of Shen Te. She loves him so she is blind to his dishonesty. Yang Sun reveals to Shui Ta his sexist approach to manipulating her; she is a "woman," so obviously she is weak when it comes to taking a stand against love. Though Shui Ta hears these words from the mouth of his (her) lover, it does not change his feelings about Yang Sun.

"To be good to you, my son,

I shall be a tigress to all others."

Shen Te, page 81

Shen Te says these words to herself as she watches one of the carpenter's starving children dig around in the trash. She has recently realized that she is pregnant and that she will have (she assumes) a son to take care of. That means that she can no longer neglect her own financial well-being in order to help others who do not earn it; she needs to take care of a child in the near future, so this "good" behavior would be even more irresponsible than it already is. After this revelation, Shen Te remains Shui Ta for six months in order to earn money at the expense of others.

"It is for you to find a way, my friends,

To help good men arrive at happy ends.

You write the happy ending to the play!

There must, there must, there's got to be a way!"

Epilogue, page 113

These are the final words of the play. According to translator Eric Bentley, the epilogue is usually delivered to the audience either by Wong or by Shen Te, but not in character; rather, as the actor who played one of those roles. It alienates the audience, making it impossible for them not to see the play as a moral and political question.

"Show interest in her goodness - for no one can be good for long if goodness is not in demand."

First god, page 23

The first god says this to Wong in a dream; he is asking him to check in on Shen Te to see if she is still able to be good. This acknowledgment of how impossible it is to be good when "goodness is not in demand" references the slippery definition of goodness in this play. At this point, the gods are confident that they will find other good people in the world, so they are willing to give Shen Te support and to acknowledge that it might be difficult for her to remain good. By the end of the play, they have lost hope, and they want to cling to the possibility that Shen Te is good, despite the odds against her.

"I find business quite unintelligible. But everybody's doing it. Business!"

First god, page 43

Wong has just explained to the gods in a dream about Shen Te's "cousin," Shui Ta. Shui Ta is a businessman, so he can deal with people more harshly and less compassionately than Shen Te does. The first god claims that he does not understand business, drawing attention to the theme of historical materialism: that a society's morality is determined by its economic systems. The gods are clearly representative of a certain "morality," but they themselves are engaging in a business interaction when they pay Shen Te for a room for the night and as they try to fulfill their quest for a good person.

"A flyer must fly."

Shen Te, page 51, and throughout

This quotation is used to justify why Yang Sun must be selfish and disregard others' feelings in order to get his post at Peking. He is a flyer, and he must fly, to fulfill both his personal happiness and society's role for him. This attitude gives him license to betray Shen Te's love as well as to cause others to lose their jobs as flyers so that he might have his. In the end, this quotation is proved wrong, since he becomes a foreman working for Shui Ta and does not, in fact, fly. It proves that a person's profession can change, that it is not synonymous with identity.