Depending on their respective persuasions, critics have been disposed to interpret Der gute Mensch von Sezuan as a statement about the impossibility of ethical behavior in a venal world or, alternatively, as an overt critique of capitalism, an illustration that virtue cannot be practised until an inhuman economic system has been superseded. However, the play can also be viewed as a very different kind of indictment: an indictment of an absolute value system and of individuals who persist in adhering to an immutable morality. In short, it is possible to argue that in Brecht's Sezuan, the emphasis is on the inadequacy of the moral rather than the social system. Sezuan need not be read as a play about goodness. On the contrary, there are cogent reasons for considering it a Brechtian model illustrating the fallacy of an absolute concept of goodness. The closing scene of the play, in demonstrating an irresolvable conflict between Shen Te's moral aspirations and her material survival can be read as a prima facie case: she cannot begin to solve her problems until she eliminates her double standard. She must adopt an ethical position which she can acknowledge publicly. This vantage point resolves several interpretative dilemmas which have faced critics heretofore, not the least of these being the embarrassment of a seemingly sentimental, if not sententious Brechtian drama.!
Swaffar, Janet K.
"The Ethics of Exploitation: Brecht's Der gute Mensch von Sezuan,"
University of Dayton Review: Vol. 13:
3, Article 10.
Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/udr/vol13/iss3/10