"In Major Barbara, Barbara was a complete contrast to the average 19th century woman." Discuss.

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, let us remember that it is notoriously difficult to identify what an "average" 19th century woman looked like. However, it is also clear that Barbara clearly defied the various expectations that were thrust upon higher class women of her time. Note the way in which she chooses to dismiss her servant and does not spend money on items such as fashion and more frivolous and trivial concerns. Her devotion to her religious belief and the way that she is willing to sacrifice the rights that her social position gives her shows that she is definitely a character who is very different from other women in her position. Her willingness to spend time and invest energy in the down-and-outs of society, and her success with them, as shown with Bill Walker, also helps to reinforce this image. Note the way in whic Lady Britomart in Act I shows how Barbara has defied expectations and is living her life in a very unconventional way for somebody of her class:

And what about Barbara? I thought Barbara was going to make the most brilliant career of all of you. And what does she do? Joins the Salvation Army; discharges her maid; lives on a pound a week; and walks in one evening with a professor of Greek whom she has picked up in the street, and who pretends to be a Salvationsist, and actually plays the big drum for her in public because he has fallen head over hears in love with her.

For a woman such as Barbara, who clearly had such ability and expectations, to exchange those possibilities for religion and for disreputable associations clearly shows the way that she was not your typical 19th century woman.


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Major Barbara

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