AD's English Literature : Andrew Undershaft’s religion of money and gun powder is Shaw's own reflection of socialism

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Andrew Undershaft’s religion of money and gun powder is Shaw's own reflection of socialism


In an altercation in the 2nd act of Major Barbara  Andrew Undershaft explains his philosophy thus:
 
Undershaft: Only that there are two things necessary to salvation.
Cusins: Ah, the church catechism……………
U: The two things are
C: Baptism and
U: No. Money and gunpowder.
C: Excuse me: is there any place in your religion for honour, justice, truth, love, mercy and so forth?
U: Yes: They are the graces and luxuries of a rich, strong and safe life.

This is the trumpeted ‘Gospel’ of Andrew Undershaft, often taken to be Shavian mouth piece in the play. In the ‘Preface’ to Major Barbara, Shaw explains in details this religion of money and gunpowder and hails Andrew Undershaft as a ‘Saint’. Under the section entitled ‘the Gospel of St. Andrew Undershaft’, Shaw writes:

“In the millionaire Undershaft, I have represented a man who has becomes intellectually and spiritually as well as practically conscious of the irresistible natural truth ……………… that our first duty, to which every other consideration should be sacrifice – is not to be poor”.

                The Gospel of Andrew Undershaft, therefore, has two facts – ‘money’ and ‘gunpowder’ there two facts comprise of the two major themes in the play – the theme of money and poverty and the question of war. Money, for Undershaft, is a symbol of power. Like Shaw Undershaft also knows to the core of his heart that the history of all the governing classes is the history of their readiness to ‘shoot, stab, hang, imprison, sink, burn and destroy ‘the poor’ in the name of law and order’ (preface). Shaw deeply believed that the real power of life resides in man’s power over money. Undershaft too know that poverty is the most disastrous pestilence that can rackman’s life. Poverty is merely sordid. So far from money being the root of evil, to undershaft it is the symbol of life; so far from love of money is the most promising feature that the world exhibits today. Beauty, cleanliness, health, culture, refinement, education, leisure, security for the future, without all which life becomes hollow and meaningless – all come by money and money alone. Shaw rightly writes in the ‘Preface’ that security, the chief pretence of civilization can not exist ………….. where the danger of poverty hangs on everyone’s head”.

            The evil consequences of poverty are shown in the shelter scence. All the inmates of the Salvation Army like Rummy Mitchens. Peter Shirley and Snobby Price, who pretend to be sinful and who therefore come to the Army for salvation are actually hypocrites, because their primary motivation for coming to this shelter is the desire for food. Actually they are all hypocrites because none of them are genuine sinful persons and they merely pretend to be sinful as a means of escape from hunger and starvation. Snobby confesses of beating and tormenting his old mother while actually he is mortally afraid of her. That money is even a great necessity to a Salvation Army convert is shown by the fact that snobby steals Bill’s Pound at the earliest opportunity. Though Barbara condemns ‘tainted money’ and refuses to take even two pennies from Undershaft, the truth comes out when we find that the Salvationists have to pray not primarily for salvation but for money in order to keep their shelter running. Naturally, the ultimate consequencesis that the Salvation Army is practically bought by Undershaft and Bodger who pay ten thousand Pounds on which solely depends the existence of the Army. Even Barbara gets the greatest shock of her life when Undershaft Points to her in the third act that it is money that has saved her from the seven deadly sins:
                “I fed you and clothed you and housed you …………………. That saved your soul from the seven deadly sins”.

                For him the seven deadly sins are not anger envy, averice, sloth etc., but the inability to supply “food, clothing, firing, rent, taxes, respectability and (Poor maintenance of) children”. Thus Undershaft gives the final explication of his religion of money when he calls poverty the ‘worst of crime’:

                All other crimes are virtues beside it …… poverty blights whole cities, spreads horrible pestilences; strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sights, sounds or smell of it……… “

                The other aspect of Undershaft’s gospel is gunpowder. That money and gunpowder to gether comprise the ultimate powder is proved by Undershaft when he points out to Stephen that even governments are the slaves of those who profess his religion, that governments frame their policies under the diction of men like Undershaft, that even the most powerful of all governments, the British Government is a slave of large capital. This ammunition dealer professes his armorer’s faith inashamed:

                “To give arms to all men who offer an honest price for them without respect of persons or principles ………… to all sorts and conditions, all nationalities, all faith, all follies, all causes and all crimes”.

                Cusins, to acknowledge the reality of this power when he says that longback when a student went to war, instead of giving him platos Republic, he gives him a revolver and hundred Undershaft cartridges. Cusins also realizes that power is the only reality in the world. What is to be noted is that neither Shaw nor Undershaft profess war; is why cusins finally tells Barbara that he wants to create genuine power for the world:

                “I love the common people. I want to arm them against the lawyer, the doctors, the priests, the literary men, the Professors, the artists, and the politicians …………. I want a power simple enough for a common men to use ………….. for the general good”.

                Shaw was a crusader against war; his purpose was to make war on war. Incidentally, Shaw long back in 1884, made an addendum to the Fabian Manifesto: “We had rather take a civil war than another century of suffering”. It is for this reason that Undershaft insists on war, war against poverty. Undershaft’s religion of money and gunpowder is no doubt militant but what he desires is that man should devote his destructive energy to destroy the evils. It is only through violence that peace can be achieved.    

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