Role and Function of Adolphus Cusins in George Bernard Shaw's play, Major Barbara

Strange in characterization, being mysteriously aloof from the action yet in action , an observer and a choric commentator on the religious conflict between Undershaft  and  Barbara and finally as chosen a future Undershaft ,Role and Function of  Adolphus Cusins in the Shavian play, Major Barbara is complex and difficult to ascertain. He has been introduced as – ‘a spectacled student slight thin haired and sweet voiced Professor of Greek’. ‘His sense of humour’, writes Shaw ‘is intellectual and subtle …… He is a most implacable, determined, tenacious, intolerant person …… capable possibly of murder, but not of cruelty and cursedness. By the operation of some instinct which is not merciful enough to blind him with the illusions of love, he is obstinately bent on marrying Barbara’.

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 This Professor of Greek, nicknamed as Euripides for his ironic pessimism and pity and modeled on the famous Professor Gilbert Murray, Shaw’s personal friend, Greek scholar and transcriber, employed in oxford, is introduced into the core of the action of Major Barbara not to propagate the high refinement and noble philosophy of Greek learning, but to suggest a crucial point of view in the Shavian thesis. The point that Shaw wants to suggest is that, it is through a merger of intellectual power and the power of money that real salvation can be achieved; Salvation cannot be truly attained through religious institutions, not withstanding their piety and sincerity, for ‘religious institutions exist by selling themselves to the rich’. Cusins himself is aware of his privileged position in society as consequence of his mastery of Greek. He tells Undershaft:“Greek scholars are privileged men ………………. Their position is unchallengeable: other languages are the qualifications of waiters and commercial travelers: Greek is to a man of position what the hallmark is to silver”. And Undershaft, too, is aware of Cusins’ intellectual superiority, and that is possibly the most significant reason behind his choice of Cusins as his heir. It is precisely because of this that Undershaft quotes Plato reminding Cusins:"Plato says …………. That society can not be saved until either the Prof of Greek take to making gunpowder……….."

So, in a diplomatic way Undershaft suggests to Cusins that the real freedom and weal of the people of the world would only be realized if intellectually gifted Professor like Adolphus Cusins and hard-boiled businessmen like undershaft will shake hands intellectual power and practical wisdom. Shaw suggests that cusins will never succeed by teaching a dead language and preaching an obsolete philosophy. Only a marriage of cusins’ knowledge of Greek and the power of money can make him beneficent to society. That is why cusins is ready to accept the inheritance of the Undershaft firm; he does not merely sell his soul for money whatever he does is for the larger benefit of the world. This is evident from Cusins’ explanatory statement to Barbara towards the end of the play: “As a teacher of Greek I have the intellectual man weapons against the common man. I now want to give the common man weapons against the intellectual man…………. I want a power simple enough for common man to use, yet strong enough to force the intellectual oligarchy to use its genius for the general good’. Cusins had long realized the truth, much before he met Undershaft and Barbara, and this is evident when he tells Barbara that this parting gift to one of his student, who went to war ‘was not a copy of Plato’s Republic, but a revolver and a hundred Undershaft cartridges……That act committed me to this place for ever”.

          Cusins is a practical man, and never, unlike Barbara of the first stages of the play, yields to the Utopia of high ideas and visionary dreams. It is his absolute dedication to the practical reality that he even accepts Undershaft’s proposal in spite of the possibility of Barbara revolting against him. It is precisely because of this dedication to reality that when, at the end of the second act, the disillusioned Barbara undoes has uniform, Cusins does not meekly follow his aggrieved beloved trying to console her, but takes up the drum and follows the procession of the Army with bold enthusiasm.

          Not that Cusins is casual in his approach to Barbara; on the contrary, he is madly in love with her and the Greek scholar is determined to marry Barbara at all costs. Had it not been for Barbara, Cusins would never have joined the Army. However, Cusins uses the Army much like he does his drum, considering it an instrument for his Dionysian ecstasies But he never confuses his love with his ultimate aim of braving the practical truth. Cusins’s dream comes true when Barbara approves his final decision and also takes up her father’s challenge to convert the well-fed, well clothed, materially satisfied people in Undershaft’s colony.

          Finally, it must be mentioned that Cusins with his sheer self-control and ready wit is always have his own way by sheer determination. His confidence and business instinct are best evident in the Bargain scene. The moment he realizes that Undershaft needs him he raises his price and establishes his own terms and conditions. No doubt his shrewd Greek scholar is the third protagonist of the play apart from Undershaft and Barbara. Witty, ironic, sensitive and talkative he also functions, as Margery Morgan Points out, as a chorus who comments upon and interprets the action and ideals of Undershaft and Barbara, and personality clash. Indeed, this is the most natural thing to do for a collector of religions.   

Ardhendu De

 Reference:1. Mojor Barbara ed, A. C. Ward


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