Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 280
Sir Andrew Undershaft
Sir Andrew Undershaft, a munitions tycoon. Believing that poverty is the root of all discontent and, consequently, a threat to capitalism, he uses his power and wealth in an attempt to eliminate it. In a war of ideas with his daughter Barbara, he proves that a donation from a dealer in death—namely, himself—will buy the good graces of the Salvation Army. He then proceeds to fill the void created by her disillusionment by converting her to his own creed.
Barbara, Sir Andrew’s daughter. As a major in the Salvation Army, she exercises her moral fervor in the cause of winning the souls of the poor to the kingdom of God. When her father proves to her that a donation from his deplored and destructive profession can win the favor of the Army, she becomes converted to his creed that it is useless to attempt the salvation of souls until the souls’ destroyer, poverty, has been eliminated.
Adolphus Cusins, a professor of Greek, Barbara’s suitor. His intellect, added to Sir Andrew’s power and Barbara’s moral fervor, completes the trinity that Sir Andrew believes will be the salvation of society.
Lady Britomart Undershaft
Lady Britomart Undershaft, Sir Andrew’s domineering wife, who abhors what she calls her husband’s immorality, though she does not hesitate to capitalize on it.
Stephen Undershaft, Sir Andrew’s painfully conventional son.
Sarah Undershaft, Sir Andrew’s younger daughter.
Charles Lomax, Sarah Undershaft’s vacuous suitor.
Peter Shirley, and
Bill Walker, frequenters of the Salvation Army headquarters.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1103
Mrs. Baines, a Salvation Army Commissioner, accepts the Undershaft money that Barbara has
See Adolphus Cusins
Jenny is a sincere Salvationist who takes Mitchens and Price's insincere religious posturings at face value. When Walker strikes her, her unending forgiveness and compassion cause him to feel tremendous guilt.
Charles is engaged to Sarah. He is a flighty young man whose lack of intelligence and inappropriate comments make him a source of humor in the play.
See Barbara Undershaft
Mitchens is seen at the Salvation Army shelter. Worn down by poverty, she appears to be elderly but is probably middle-aged. She appreciates the kindness of the Salvation Army workers but knows that to make them happy, she must confess a multitude of sins. When Walker strikes her, she repays him with anger and threats, in contrast to Jenny Hill, who treats the brute with kindness and forgiveness.
See Charles Lomax
Cusins is engaged to Barbara. Shaw describes him as "capable possibly of murder, but not of cruelty or coarseness." A professor of Greek, he pretends to be a Salvationist because of his love for Barbara, though he tells Andrew Undershaft that he has a genuine interest in religion. He shares some of Barbara's idealism and is revolted by Undershaft's cynical religion of money and gunpowder; in fact, he frequently calls Undershaft the devil or Mephistopheles. Yet he is also persuaded to some extent by Undershaft's arguments and agrees to succeed Undershaft in his armaments business. Nonetheless, he brings some of his own idealism to that business, initially telling Undershaft that he will sell arms only to whom he wishes, while Undershaft insists he sell to everyone. Finally, citing his own socially acceptable but morally questionable acts, he agrees to accept Undershaft's offer, but leaves the audience with the impression that he and Barbara will try to do good through a business based on evil.
Price is an unemployed workman who admits to confessing sins he never committed in order to please the Salvationists. He shows two faces to the audience: the cynicism he displays with Mitchens and the exaggerated religious demeanor he puts on in front of Barbara and Jenny.
Shirley is a forty-six-year-old worker who is ashamed of accepting help from the Salvation Army. He has recently lost his job because his streak of gray hair makes him look like an old man. He tells Undershaft that he and those like him are poor because they work to make Undershaft and his kind rich.
Undershaft, Barbara's father, has become a wealthy man through the manufacture of armaments. Money and gunpowder form the basis of his religion, and he says that the Salvation Army's slogan, "Blood and Fire," could be his own. Though others are horrified by his profession, he is unapologetic, and his motto is "unashamed." Life as an arms manufacturer has kept him from what is believes is the greatest sin—poverty. There are numerous references to him as the devil throughout the play, and Barbara's description of how she has imagined his workplace fits in with stereotypical images of hell. Yet his workplace is not a hell; his workers are well fed and live in clean, comfortable houses. There is, however, a certain cynicism in all this; if his workers are satisfied, they will be better employees, less likely to form unions, more likely to be reliable. Undershaft's love for Barbara is genuine, and he wishes to convert her to his point of view. The play' s ending appears to leave him triumphant, but Barbara remains a reformer She has seen the reality of what her father says and does, but she has not adopted his cynicism.
Barbara is the title character of the play Born into a well-to-do family, she becomes a major in the Salvation Army, dismissing her servant and sharply curtailing her spending. Her primary focus is on doing what she believes to be the work of God. Shaw describes her as jolly and energetic and these attributes show in her work at the Salvation Army shelter, where her religious devotion and quiet persistence gradually begin to break the defenses of even the rough Bill Walker. Barbara is engaged to Adolphus Cusins. The play is set in motion when Barbara, meeting her father for the first time, asks him to come to her shelter, and he agrees, providing she comes to see his foundry and model town. Barbara's idealism is dashed when her father comes to the shelter and the Army eagerly accepts his money, which Barbara considers tainted. She abandons the Army, not knowing what she will now do with the rest of her life.
When she sees the beauty of Perivale St. Andrews, Barbara becomes convinced that it is better to save those souls which cannot be bribed with bread or heaven. As Cusins accepts the proposition that he succeed Undershaft, Barbara gains a new sense of purpose. She has grown wise, but retains a sense of idealism in her plan to transform her father's model town.
Lady Britomart Undershaft
Lady Britomart is Barbara's mother and Andrew Undershaft's estranged wife. At the beginning of the play she has summoned Undershaft to discuss with him how he will provide for his adult children. She is particularly concerned about their son Stephen. She initially separated from Undershaft because of his intention of leaving his business to a foundling instead of to Stephen. By the end of the play, she is satisfied with Undershaft leaving the business to Barbara through Cusins.
Sarah is Barbara's sister. She is more superficial than Barbara. Shaw describes her as "slender, bored, and mundane." She is engaged to Charles Lomax.
Stephen is the twenty-five-year-old son of Andrew Undershaft and Lady Britomart. He is a serious young man, initially horrified by his father's line of work and, unlike his siblings, rejects Undershaft from the beginning. But seeing his father's foundry and the city Penvale St. Andrews, he comes to admire and respect his father's work.
Walker is a rough young man who comes to the shelter looking for a fight and eventually strikes both Mitchens and Hill. Because Mitchens responds with anger, he is not ashamed of striking her, but Hill's forgiveness provokes strong feelings of guilt within him. When he tries to pay money for his misdeed, Barbara tells him that the Army cannot be bought But when Mrs. Baines accepts Undershaft's money, Walker taunts Barbara, saying his money was only turned down because it wasn't enough.