the big site
Book Reviews
Quick Search For:
back to the big site
  Submit a review
 Book Reviews Community & Chat Book Reviews
  Community & Chat

Major Barbara - Bernard Shaw
Read the whole book free at eBooks Cube

Major Barbara
Bernard Shaw

Back to the first page of this book review

    As is shown with the example of Bill Walker’s assault on two women, which Barbara refuses to punish (but also to forgive), if we treat “bad” people well they begin respecting themselves and do good. Could this be simplified into what contemporary psychologists call the “glass mirror effect”, which states that if we think of somebody as stupid, he begins acting stupid etc.

   Shaw is also not reluctant to admit that morality is a relative term: “There is only one true morality for every man; but every man has not the same morality”. When Stephen, the narrow-minded aristocrat, says “right is right and wrong is wrong”, he clearly appears to be making a very naïve assumption, especially in the context of the play.

   The relativity of morality is illustrated with the paradox of the Salvation Army being described as an ugly nest of hypocrisy, and the armament-factory of “the Prince of Darkness” being described as a happy and prosperous place. That is Shavian paradox at work: what everybody expects to be Hell is as beautiful as Paradise. Undershaft’s welfare town is a small-scale attempt at socialism, and the direct improvement in the life of the employees satiates them, which suits Undershaft.

   Private enterprise socialism seems to be the alternative to liberal democracy that Shaw supports, although he does imply that greater progress will only come through what Otto von Bismarck called “blood and iron”. Shaw is saying that liberal democracy only gives an illusion of freedom- the real power is force, which is why revolution successfully occurred in France and in Russia. Under liberal democracy, neither the politicians, nor the people have the power; it is the capitalist giants like Undershaft who pull the strings, and are “above the law”.

   The ultimate battle in “Major Barbara”, therefore, is that between ideology and power. Power is , of course, the triumphant winner as is exemplified by the decision of the Professor of Greek to join Undershaft’s side and succeed him in his foundling throne. Although he may at first appear to be making a pact with the devil, Cusins is actually choosing realism over romance, and practical improvement over impractical theories. Cusins has realized that he cannot change the world by teaching Greek philosophy, and so he takes to “gunpowder”. After all, philosophy may be difficult for people to understand, but power is the universal language.

   “Major Barbara” is a play that gives credit to Shaw’s statement that “I am and shall always be a revolutionary writer, because our laws make law impossible...”.The play is truly a revolutionary one, so much so that it is a delightful read to anyone who feels himself to be an opponent of the current order of things. And what greater poetry is there than in the paradox of the way of life lying through the factory of death?

Book review by Anna Hassapi the big site