“It’s a very human habit, discussing. It’s one great advantage we have over the animals. If cows could discuss, for example, there’d soon be no more slaughterhouses.” – Matti (5)
If the good person of Setzuan is the self split in search of maintaining material success, Mr. Puntila is a parallel archetype – the functional capitalist who requires regular lapses into serious intoxication to enjoy the advantages their everyday persona wins them. As in Chaplin’s City Lights – the device’s obvious precursor – we spend much more time with the drunken version of Puntila than we do the other. This ups the carnivalesque entertainment value but also allows typically Brechtian defamiliarisation as he regards his periods of sobriety: “…you’d never believe the sort of things I get up to in that state… [with horror] …I become fully responsible for my actions.”
“Say no more about that Puntila who was drowned in a bowl of punch this evening, the wicked fellow. Look at me now, I’ve become human, all of you drink too, become human, never say die!” – Puntila (9)
His servant, Matti, is another of Brecht’s survivors, albeit uniformed in a rather hardbitten, taciturn manner, and it’s his ultimate unromantic realism which reveals what could be a harmless comedy of follies cloaks something harder and sadder. In refusing a love match with Puntila’s daughter, he flips the convention of class conversion (the corrosive comedy of laughing at lessers attempting to pass as ‘betters’) by demonstrating what a poor wife to a working man she’d be, adding how their children would patronise their humble father. Eva, the daughter, is herself a strong counterpoint, dismissing Matti’s materialism in a way only those whose needs are secure can and realising the threat to the ruling class in a meritocracy is not that the ruled may doubt their morals – that’s obvious – but their competency.
Likewise, the play ends with him leaving Puntila’s employ – though there is some fondness between them, he realises there can be no genuine friendship between master and servant.
“I want to be sure there’s no gulf between us… Tell me there’s no gulf.”; “I take that as an order – there’s no gulf.”