Major Barbara By George Bernard Shaw Summary and Analysis Act II (Scene between Undershaft and Cusins)

Summary

Undershaft immediately suspects the sincerity of Cusins' attachment, as well as his involvement with the Salvation Army, and with a flourish of the drum sticks, Cusins lets Undershaft know that he is right in his assumptions, but Cusins points out that he is a "collector of religions," and he has found that he can believe them all. Undershaft then explains his own personal religion, which is based on money and gunpowder; the traditional values (honor, justice, truth, love, mercy, and so forth) are only "graces and luxuries of a rich, strong, and safe life." Forced to choose between traditional values and "money and gunpowder," Undershaft would always choose the latter because until one has the power brought about by money, one cannot afford the luxury of the other "graces."

While not disagreeing, Cusins points out that Undershaft will have to choose between Barbara and his, Undershaft's, own unique religion — and, he states, Barbara won't tolerate Undershaft's views. Undershaft agrees but also points out that Cusins faces the same problem because Barbara will soon find out that Cusins' drum, which he plays for the Army, is "hollow." Now it is Cusins' turn to be open and honest, and he maintains that he enjoys the Army because it is an army of "joy, of love, of courage. . . . It marches to fight the devil with trumpet and drum, with music and dancing, [and that] it takes [a] poor professor of Greek" and gives him shelter and a drum so he can beat Greek dithyrambs throughout the streets. He is rhapsodic about the Army, but as Undershaft knows, not for reasons that Barbara would understand. Thus, Cusins' frankness wins Undershaft's confidence, and they both enter into a bargain to win Barbara over to their sides:

UNDERSHAFT: Professor Cusins: you are a young man after my own heart.

CUSINS: Mr. Undershaft: you are, as far as I am able to gather, a most infernal old rascal, but you appeal very strongly to my sense of ironic humor.

Undershaft, who has become extremely attached to his daughter Barbara and recognizes in her something unusual, something beyond the call of the ordinary person, maintains that they must convert her to his point of view, which is money and gunpowder, which will, in turn, offer "freedom and power." He convinces Cusins by asking him if anyone except a madman can make cannons as he does, and can anyone except a madman translate Euripides as Cusins does, and can anyone who is really sane convert poor people? Thus, there are three "mad" people (Undershaft, Cusins, and Barbara) in the shelter today, and they must all work together in order to raise the common person up to their level of existence. Cusins then points out that Barbara is in love with the commoner, but Undershaft rises to his most magnificent heights when he points out the absurdity of Barbara's love of the poor and her attachment to poverty: After all, he says, even the saints who professed love for such things were absurd. No one can really love disease, suffering, dirt, and poverty. Love for such things would be unnatural, a perversion of all values. For Undershaft, a love of poverty has no romance in it because he himself endured poverty as a child, and there is nothing noble or romantic about being poor. He concludes: "We three must stand together above the common people: how else can we help their children to climb up beside us? Barbara must belong to us, not to the Salvation Army." When Cusins points out that Barbara cannot be bought, Undershaft agrees, but he then points out that the Salvation Army can be bought — precisely because all "religious organizations exist by selling themselves to the rich." Once he can buy the Army and then have Barbara, he will prove to her that rather than her working for the poor, it would be better if she were to work for the sober, honest, happy worker, who is not in physical want of food and nourishment.

Analysis

This scene sets forth some of Shaw's paradoxes: For example, the one thing that Undershaft, his daughter, and Cusins have in common is a type of madness — that is, only a madman would make cannons and other instruments of destruction as Undershaft does; only a madman would attempt to translate the wild Euripides from ancient Greek to modern English as Cusins does; and only a madwoman would attempt to covert such hypocritical sinners as Barbara does. Thus, the paradox is that these three mad people must combine and work together to raise the common person "up" to their level. This will be ironically accomplished by buying them — by "owning" them.

Undershaft's main point (and Shaw's ultimate point) is that poverty is the worst of all crimes. Having lived in poverty himself, Undershaft finds no romance in dirt, and there is no need for him to pretend that poverty is a blessing; for him, poverty has never made anyone better off: ". . . leave it to the coward to make a religion of his cowardice by preaching humility." Generally, Undershaft and Shaw believe that anyone who supports a system of government that tolerates poverty has to share in the responsibility for the poverty. In Undershaft's (and Shaw's) ideal state, poverty will be totally eliminated, and everyone will work according to their capacities.

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According to Undershaft, __________ is the most destructive thing, the worst of all crimes, known to mankind.




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