There are many instances portraying goodness in the play “the good person of Setzuan.” One has to say that “goodness” as portrayed in the play is a multifaceted phenomenon. During Wong’s absence, the gods show their fears about the possibility of failing to achieve their mission of finding a good person. One god decries lack of religious ethic among human beings as the sole reason they are likely to fail in their mission (Hilsman, 1).
From the beginning of the play, the theme of goodness comes out starting with the gods’ definition of who a good person is. According to the gods, a good person is the one who lives a life that is worthy of a human being. In the scene 1a, the theme of goodness comes out when the gods urge Wong to look for Shen Te and show interest in her honesty so that she can reciprocate.
According to the gods, goodness cannot survive for long if there is no demand for it. In this scene, there is an attempt by the gods to explain that being good is through the above interaction between Wong and the gods, perhaps a further elaboration of what “living a life that is worthy of a human being” means. Finally, the gods are trying to imply that it is difficult for a human to achieve goodness without support from other people.
There is also one instance of goodness when Shen Te offers the old woman money to pay her rent. He acknowledges that the woman is a candidate for a good person, an indirect reference to the gods’ idea of goodness and demand. In scene 6, the theme of goodness comes out clearly through the song of St. Nevercome by Yang Sun. In the song, Yang Sun sarcastically mocks at the efforts of human beings to try to be good.
According to him, the days when all human beings will be good will never come. Thus, it’s futile to strive for goodness. In the scene 6a, the gods also enhance the theme of goodness by citing it as strength and declining Wong’s desire to see them intervene in Shen Te’s life. According to the gods, good people find their way to God’s world.
In the play, Shen Te’s perception of goodness changes during pregnancy, further highlighting the theme of goodness. When she sees the carpenter’s child digging in the trash, she vows that she will be good to her son and a tigress to others. Goodness also comes out in the scene 9a when the gods lament on little goodness they have found in the world.
Despite Shen Te’ staying good, Wong’s role helps to cast doubt on her “good” image. The third god captures goodness with the conclusion that good intentions bring people to the brink of the abyss while good deeds push people over the edge of the cliff. It is therefore correct to assert that being good according to the gods’ rulebook is impossible, as they later discover.
After the revelation by Shen Te that she was also Shui Ta, the gods could not believe that she did bad things. The first god, in particular, insists on congratulating her for remaining good (Brockett, 66). After the gods leave, Shen Te remains with her problems and still struggles to achieve goodness.
Brockett, Oscar. Perspectives on Contemporary Theatre. Louisiana: LSU Press. 1971. Print.
Hilsman, Hoyt. “The Good Woman of Setzuan”. Backstage. Open Fist Theatre, June 09, 2010. Web. November 26, 2011.