Major Barbara Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Wilton Crescent

Wilton Crescent. Fashionable section of London’s upscale West End. Act 1 is set in the library of Lady Britomart Undershaft’s house, which she has tastefully decorated with money from her husband, who has become wealthy by manufacturing arms. Although the pictures, books, and music portfolios identified in stage directions suggest the Undershaft family will be gathering in an enlightened environment conducive to liberal thinking, Lady Britomart steps forward as a Victorian relic of upper-class materialism. Thus, the library’s rich decor calls attention to Lady Britomart’s insistence upon money as the panacea for whatever problems she and her adult children confront.

West Ham

West Ham. Location of the newly whitewashed Salvation Army shelter in London’s impoverished East End in which the play’s second act is set. Seen through Barbara Undershaft’s eyes, the shelter represents charitable compassion. Conversely, for the destitute who seek refuge here from the January cold, it represents food as bribery. Barbara has devoted herself to saving souls within these bleak surroundings, but she is no match for her intruding millionaire father who proves that her means for rescuing the downtrodden are hollow. After Undershaft purchases her religious idealism by donating five thousand pounds to the shelter, Barbara walks away under a leaden sky, knowing that her illusions have been as thin as the whitewash on the slum warehouse.

Perivale St. Andrews

Perivale St. Andrews. Location of Andrew Undershaft’s munitions foundry set amid the hills of Middlesex. The fictitious Perivale St. Andrews of act 3 is a frighteningly perfect utopian community made up of churches, libraries, schools, banquet chambers, and nursing homes. Not to be overlooked, however, the dummy soldiers strewn under a high explosives shed testify to the ghastly effects produced by the bombshells on display at this “triumph of modern industry.” The foundry clearly symbolizes the entrepreneur’s right to spread destruction; however, from among the clutter of props in the closing scene, Barbara emerges as an energetic life force who intends to use her inherited money and power to fight the evils of war.

Major Barbara Historical Context

The early 1900s saw an increasing interest in socialism (which advocates government ownership and/or control of the production and...

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Major Barbara Literary Style

Plot and Subplot
Critics have noted at least four possible plots in Major Barbara: the conversion struggle between...

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Major Barbara Compare and Contrast

1905: Interest in socialism grows with the development of many socialist organizations and an attempt at revolution in Russia....

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Major Barbara Topics for Further Study

Research the place of women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. How does Barbara rebel against traditional feminine roles?...

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Major Barbara Media Adaptations

Major Barbara was adapted as a film in 1941, with additional scenes and characters added by Shaw. The film was directed by Gabriel...

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Major Barbara What Do I Read Next?

Mrs. Warren's Profession, a play written by Shaw in 1898, is also concerned with the morality of avoiding poverty by doing what may be...

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Major Barbara Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Bertolim, John A. The Playwrighting Self of Bernard Shaw, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale), 1991,...

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Major Barbara Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Bentley, Eric. Bernard Shaw. 1947. Reprint. Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1957. One of the best writers about modern drama, Bentley sets forth ideas about Shaw that place later critics in his debt. His study is one of the first important books on Shaw.

Holroyd, Michael. Bernard Shaw. 4 vols. New York: Random House, 1987-1992. Authoritative, superbly written, and richly detailed, these books are models of the biographer’s art. In the second volume, The Pursuit of Power 1898-1918, Holroyd discusses Major Barbara, giving particular attention to the troublesome third act and its ambiguities, about which he writes...

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