In “The Good Woman of Setzuan,” water is a powerful and recurring symbol that is used to convey a range of ideas and themes. The symbol of water is closely connected to the play’s exploration of power, survival, and community, and it plays an important role in shaping the play’s characters and their actions.
One of the primary functions of the water symbol is to underscore the harsh reality of life in Setzuan. The play is set in a region that is prone to droughts and flooding, and water is often scarce and precious. The characters are forced to compete for access to water, and their ability to survive and thrive is closely linked to their access to this vital resource. This emphasis on water as a scarce and valuable commodity highlights the harsh and unforgiving nature of life in Setzuan, and underscores the characters’ struggles to survive in a world that is often hostile and unpredictable.
At the same time, water also serves as a symbol of hope and renewal. The play’s title character, Shen Te, is introduced to the audience as a poor, struggling prostitute who is barely able to make ends meet. When three gods arrive in Setzuan in search of a “good” person to reward, Shen Te offers them shelter and food. In return, the gods give her a large sum of money, which she uses to purchase a tobacco shop. Shen Te’s success in the tobacco business is closely linked to her access to water; she is able to purchase a water pump and provide clean drinking water to the community, which earns her the respect and gratitude of her neighbors.
Water also serves as a symbol of transformation and rebirth in the play. When Shen Te is forced to take on a male persona, Shui Ta, in order to protect herself and her business, she is frequently seen washing her hands and face in a basin of water. This act of cleansing and purifying suggests a desire to start anew, to shed her old identity and embrace a new one. In this sense, water serves as a powerful symbol of the transformative potential of change, and underscores the play’s emphasis on the need to adapt and evolve in the face of difficult circumstances.
Finally, water serves as a symbol of community and connection in the play. The characters are frequently shown interacting with water, whether it is through drinking, washing, or bathing. This emphasis on water as a communal resource underscores the play’s theme of interdependence, and highlights the importance of cooperation and solidarity in the face of the harsh realities of life in Setzuan. In this sense, water serves as a powerful symbol of the ties that bind us together, even in the face of adversity and challenge.
Wong is closely linked to water and is often depicted carrying a jug or bucket of water on his back. This association with water is significant because it highlights Wong’s role as a provider of a vital resource, and underscores his status as an essential but undervalued member of the community. Wong’s association with water also underscores his connection to themes of survival, scarcity, and community, all of which are central to the play.
In conclusion, the symbol of water plays an important and multifaceted role in “The Good Woman of Setzuan.” Through its use of water as a symbol of scarcity, hope, transformation, and community, the play underscores the complex and often difficult realities of life in Setzuan, and highlights the characters’ struggles to survive and thrive in a world that is often unforgiving and harsh.