Major Barbara By George Bernard Shaw Summary and Analysis Act I (The brief scene between the family, just prior to the arrival of Andrew Undershaft)

Summary

Having prepared Stephen for the arrival of his father, Lady Britomart now sends Morrison, the butler, to fetch her daughters and their respective fiancés so that they might be told of the imminent arrival of Undershaft. Barbara and Sarah arrive first, Barbara dressed in her major's uniform from the Salvation Army and Sarah dressed in the fashionable attire of the time. Sarah is dumbfounded when she hears her mother's news, and her fiancé, Charles Lomax, makes a few inappropriate, fatuous remarks greatly to the chagrin of Lady Britomart. Barbara, in contrast, will be glad to see her father since he "has a soul to be saved like anybody else." Adolphus Cusins (Dolly) makes some more humorous and subtle quips, but he speaks Lady Britomart's mind when he says that they should all behave themselves because their conduct is a reflection upon how Lady Britomart has brought up the children.

Analysis

This brief transitional scene serves chiefly to introduce us to the other main characters and to give Andrew Undershaft time to arrive upon the scene. Since Shaw, as a dramatist, spends considerable effort writing for the readers of his plays, it is important to note his descriptions of the characters. In a key description, for example, he is careful to differentiate between the two sisters: Sarah is "slender, bored and mundane" and dressed fashionably, whereas Barbara is the more livelier, wittier, and jollier of the two; she is the energetic sister. Likewise, the two fiancés are also clearly delineated: Charles Lomax is simply content to be a young man-about-town, possessing a rather flippant or frivolous sense of humor which brings Lady Britomart often to the brink of despair. Cusins, however, has an intellectual detachment, and if we know now that at the end of the drama he will be selected to take charge of the Undershaft and Lazarus Munitions factories, we will see how thoroughly qualified he is for that position even in Shaw's early description of him. For example, Shaw writes: "He is a most implacable, determined, tenacious, intolerant person who . . . is considerate, gentle, explanatory, even mild and apologetic, capable possibly of murder, but not of cruelty or coarseness." These seemingly contradictory qualities will, therefore, make him a highly qualified person to manage the very humane, yet very destructive company of Lazarus and Undershaft Munitions.

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