Major Barbara By George Bernard Shaw Summary and Analysis Act II (The arrival of Major Barbara at the Shelter, followed by the arrival of her father)

Summary

After Bill Walker has been warned that Major Barbara is the granddaughter of an earl, Bill is somewhat subdued, and then Major Barbara enters with a notebook to question the newcomers. Shirley gives his name and occupation and is assured that the Army will find him a job. Bill Walker, however, refuses to give his name, but Major Barbara recognizes him as the man whom Jenny is praying for, and she decides to put him down as "the man who — struck — poor Jenny Hill — in the mouth." Walker then demands to know the whereabouts of his girl, Mog Ebbijem, and he is told that she has gone to another shelter and that she now has a new boyfriend named Todger Fairmile, a wrestler and a sergeant in the Salvation Army. At this point, Jenny reenters and forgives and blesses Bill Walker, causing him further consternation. At the same time, the arrival of Andrew Undershaft is announced, and Barbara ushers in her father and introduces him to Peter Shirley, who is immediately offended by Undershaft's manner of making millions and asserts to Undershaft: "Who made your millions for you? Me and my like. What's kep us poor? Keeping you rich. I wouldn't have your conscience, not for all your income," to which Undershaft sarcastically responds: "I wouldn't have your income, not for all of your conscience, Mr. Shirley."

Undershaft then asks Barbara to continue her work as he observes her, and so she turns her attention to Bill Walker and appeals to his conscience. She is about to break through his stubborn resistance when Cusins enters beating a drum, thus breaking the spell and allowing Bill Walker to escape. Walker pities Cusins if he is to marry such a one as Barbara; he advises Cusins to "stop er jawr" or else Cusins will suffer for it. At this point, Barbara has to leave, and she tells Cusins to explain to her father how the shelter functions.

Analysis

This scene shows Major Barbara going about her business of soothing and converting souls to the Salvation Army. She is indeed the epitome of the efficient businesswoman as she busies herself with taking notes on Peter Shirley, his job situation, and then promising him that she will find work for him. She is the essence of tact when Shirley loudly proclaims that he is a Secularist (that is, one who believes that the well-being of humanity takes precedence over religious observations); Major Barbara very calmly tells him that her father is also a Secularist. She then shows herself to be highly accomplished in dealing with difficult or antagonistic characters such as Bill Walker. Of course, we should be aware that Bill Walker has already been somewhat intimidated by the knowledge that Major Barbara is the granddaughter of an earl. Even though Shaw — the man — deplored such class distinctions, Shaw — the dramatist — was well aware of the commoner's awe of nobility, and he used this fact for dramatic purposes. However, Major Barbara, on her own, proves to be quite capable of handling the situation. She is aware that Walker has struck old Rummy Mitchens and that he has treated Jenny Hill in a brutal fashion. Major Barbara, however, does not reprimand him. Instead, when Walker refuses to give his name, she records him in her book as "the man who — struck — poor little Jenny Hill — in the mouth." Instead of reproaching him, Major Barbara lets him know that Jenny is praying for him. Had someone scolded him or cursed him, it would have had no effect, but this unexpected behavior causes his conscience to twinge slightly, and Major Barbara is aware of the effect that she is achieving, and she skillfully exploits this aspect of Bill's character.

In the next interchange, where Bill Walker volunteers to atone (the fact that he even considers atonement attests to Major Barbara's effectiveness) for hitting Jenny Hill by having himself beat up by Todger Fairmile, Major Barbara rejects this approach; she will not allow Bill Walker to buy salvation from the Salvation Army by having someone blacken his eyes because he did the same thing to Jenny Hill. As Major Barbara says, ". . . two black eyes won't make one white one." She believes, like Shaw, that a person must change inwardly. Too much forgiveness simply allows the sinner to return to sinning with the knowledge that he can be forgiven again. Consequently, Major Barbara is trying to get Bill Walker to redeem himself through a change in his conscience — not through someone else's forgiveness.

Thus, Major Barbara is seen as the completely self-assured, confident person who is able to control the various "minor" types at the shelter. With the arrival of Barbara's father, the question will be whether or not she will be able to control him.

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