Candida is the main character as well as the title of a play by George Bernard Shaw. In the late 19th century, realism gained a dominant place in literature. The genre of the problem play, which fits squarely within realism, is most often associated with Norway’s Henrik Ibsen. Shaw himself actually compared Candida to Ibsen’s famous A Doll’s House. The problem play is a drama of ideas, presenting themes about contemporary social issues, usually expressed through passionate polemics in the character’s dialogue. Women’s rights and labor issues, which are among their typical themes, both figure prominently in Candida. Notably, near the end, she is said to “belong to herself” after two men fight over her and she remarks that they seem to think it “quite settled that I must belong to one or the other.”
Ostensibly a conventional, self-sacrificing wife and mother, Candida feels trapped in her marriage to Reverend Morell. Her longing for more takes the form of an attachment to the young poet Marchbanks. This fondness on her part is more maternal than romantic, while the poet’s view of her is imbued with romantic idealism. He wants to rescue her essential free spirit from being stifled by her husband’s preaching, calling his sermons “mere rhetoric.” Candida believes, however, and tells her husband that in future the right woman’s love will instead rescue the poet. She chooses to remain with her husband because he is weaker and needs her more.
The worker versus owner issues are presented in several arguments that express the conflict between her father, Burgess, a factory owner, and Rev. Morell, a socialist committed to solving worker’s problems. A less-than-ideal solution occurs when Burgess fires the female workers instead of giving them the raise that Morell recommended. Shaw adds irony to the mix as Morell pays low wages to his own secretary.