George Bernard Shaw’s Joan of Arc is a strong, powerful, impressively capable visionary and leader. Although she is just a teenager, Joan understands the complexities of her social world in ways that many adults cannot comprehend. Driven in large part by her faith, Joan is brave to the point of fearless.
For Shaw, Joan’s downfall comes in part as a result of her inability or refusal to succumb to patriarchal control. He offers a complex character who stands for class-based challenges to the status quo. She is the child of small-holding farmer in a rigidly regulated society that downplayed the contributions of everyday working people.
Shaw locates this hero within historical currents in which diverse interpretations challenged the singular authority of the Catholic Church. He situates the charges of heresy for which she was persecuted as an aspect of those broader currents, suggesting that the Church contributed to its own downfall by refusing to accommodate dissenting opinions. Her combined devoutness and strength of will are factors in her being burned rather than allowed to live.
Shaw adds an interesting twist to his presentation by bringing Joan’s ghost into the drama. As she confronts the new development of her vindication through being endowed the status of saint, she is forced to admit that her passion and theological views may still be out of synch with ordinary norms.