Academic journal article Notes on Contemporary Literature

Water Symbolism in Brecht's the Good Person of Szetchwan in the Interlude between Scenes 7 and 8

Academic journal article Notes on Contemporary Literature

Water Symbolism in Brecht's the Good Person of Szetchwan in the Interlude between Scenes 7 and 8

Article excerpt

Wang the water-seller relates to the three gods a dream he has just had about Shen Teh:

   Before you appeared to me and woke me, O Enlightened Ones, I was
   dreaming. I saw my dear sister Shen Teh in great distress, plodding
   through the rushes by the river, in the place where the suicides
   are found. She was staggering strangely and her head was bent as
   though she were carrying something soft but heavy, which pressed
   her down into the mud. When I cried out to her, she called back
   that she had to carry the bundle of precepts to the other shore
   without getting them wet, for water would wash away the letters.
   (Collected Plays, trans. Ralph Manheim, Ed. Ralph Manheim and John
   Willet, Vol. 6 [NY: Random House, 1976]: 78) The "precepts" Wang
   refers to here constitute the gods' commandments to humankind.

In a speech of Shen Teh's near the beginning of the play, it is implied that these divine precepts correspond roughly to some of the better known admonitions to virtuous behavior inscribed in the Judeo-Christian and other prominent world religions: "Of course I should like to keep the commandments, to honor my father and mother, and tell the truth. I should be overjoyed not to covet my neighbor's house, and delighted to keep faith with a husband. Nor should I wish to take advantage of anyone, or rob the helpless" (10). They also include the homilies that strength increases with burdens (68), that "suffering purifies" (67), and that good wins out in the end (102). The gods in the play have come to earth to try to refute the claim that it is impossible to follow their commandments--to live a consistently virtuous life--in the world as it is presently constituted. …

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