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Comparative Analysis of the Dramas Good Woman of Setzuan and Master Harold

Comparative Analysis of the Dramas Good Woman of Setzuan and Master Harold

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Published by Chanin
A comparative analysis of the dramas, The Good Woman of Setzuan and Master Harold.
A comparative analysis of the dramas, The Good Woman of Setzuan and Master Harold.

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Published by: Chanin on Apr 16, 2010
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Good Woman and Master HaroldThere are many ways in which to analyze, critique, and compare dramas.Usually the dramas compared are of similar eras. However, I have found two dramasthat are socially similar and even culturally similar and yet they were written 50 yearsapart in two different nations. These plays are ³The Good Woman of Setzuan´ and³MASTER HAROLD«and the boys.´ One could wonder how these plays are similar.Socially each drama explains the societal expectations of their characters. Culturally,the beliefs of the culture are interlaced and are determined by those individuals aroundthe characters that require them to act in such a way that is culturally acceptable. A fascinating part of this comparative analysis is the fact that ³The Good Womanof Setzuan´ was written in 1938, in Germany, and ³MASTER HAROLD«and the boys´was written in 1982 in South Africa. The culture is mirrored in the society. It is hard toseparate the two exclusively. Therefore, the social and cultural actions and eventsshould be considered in relation to one another.Within each play, there are two main characters. In ³MASTER HAROLD«andthe boys´ the protagonist is Sam and the antagonist is Master Harold (Hally). Manywould believe that Hally is the protagonist, however if it was not for the discriminativeactions and events created by Hally, Sam would never change and the story would notmove forward. Sam is mild mannered, and only through Hally is the oppression shownwithin this drama (Beck, 109). ³The Good Woman of Setzuan´ is a bit different. Thistime the oppression is shown between male and female rather than black and white. Infact, this duality is not even just male and female, but different personalities of the sameperson. Shen Te is female and therefore takes a lower place on the societal ladder,
 
which causes her to have to create a cousin, Shui Ta, a male, that comes to help her with the more masculine parts of her business. Everyone seems to listen to Shui Tabecause he is a man, whereas the other characters walk over and use Shen Te, whichin the end caused her many problems. Using the characters helps the audience to trulyunderstand the social and cultural implications.The time frame of the societal and cultural beliefs should also be considered. InGermany in 1938, the war was brewing. Communism was starting its march againstWestern Europe, and Bertolt Brecht was living in the middle of the action. It was in thissituation that Brecht wrote his Chinese tale of one good woman in a world of evil andmalicious people. The culture of China at the time was set up that men were thepowerful and women were objects (Herrmann, 147). Socially, the play takes place inthe lower echelon of the society, in other words, in the poor section of the city of Setzuan (Herrmann, 141; Carkin & Alcock). These factors are shown in the duality of Shen Te and Shui Ta (Brecht, 1131), and the element of poverty is obvious in botheconomically and morally when Shui Ta says ³My cousin has the worst possiblereputation: that of being poor´ (Brecht, 1132). What is not said, but is understood by theaudience is that the reputation is also based on the fact that Shen Te was a prostituteand was among the immoral and poorest part of the society. Approximately, fifty years later, Athol Fugard¶s ³MASTER HAROLD«and theboys was performed in Apartheid South Africa. In this setting, the contrast is notbetween the feminine and masculine, but between the black and the white. Culturally,apartheid was rampant and accepted by society and the government, and the whiteman was supreme over the black man. Not only was this acceptable, but socially it
 
created a lower class in which the black individuals tried to survive (Effiong). This isbest displayed by the change in attitude of Hally toward the end of the play when Hallytells Sam ³You¶re only a servant in here, and don¶t forget it´ (Fugard, 1297). This showsthat Hally is superior to Sam, at least culturally and socially. Up to this point, Hally hasrelieved childhood memories that included Sam. However, after receiving a call inregards to Hally¶s father returning home, Hally changes in personality into thediscriminatory individual that is socially desired in relation to the black servants thatwork for his mother. This is climaxed when Hally spits in Sam¶s face. This one actionhas destroyed a relationship that took years to build. This action also put Sam back inhis place in the lower caste of society.The secondary characters in each play are only used to accentuate theacceptable and non-acceptable actions of the main characters. For example, the godsin ³The Good Woman of Setzuan´ tell Shen Te that she ³proved that good people stillexist, a point that has been disputed of late ± even in heaven´ (Brecht, 1127). Shen Tereplies, ³I¶m not sure you¶re right. I¶d like to be good, it¶s true, but there¶s rent to pay. And that is not all: I sell myself for a living´ (Brecht, 1127). One of the gods follows bysaying that ³These thought are but, um, the misgivings of an unusually good woman´(Brecht, 1127). If it was not for the gods, Shen Te would believe that she was immoral,hence a bad and disreputable citizen, but she has been shown that her actions for survival are not as important as her actions toward those who criticize her and thosewho are lower than she. An extremely important example in the play ³MASTER HAROLD«and the boys´shows the relationship of Sam and Hally, and how Hally¶s actions have destroyed it.

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