Significance of Shelter Scene in Major Barbara


  The Salvation Army is used throughout the drama, Major Barbara, not only as contemporary touchstones that help establish setting, but also as a way of revealing the Bernard Shaw’s interests, emotions, and personalities. Chief among these is the Shavian philosophy which reflects Shaw’s design landscape of society, and also showcases the divide between religion and money. Read More George Bernard Shaw His reaction to them is respectful and even political—but he does not really burden us the theory without explanation. The meaning of the classic ‘Shelter Scene’ which takes place in the ‘Salvation Army Shelter’, is our emotional dilemmas, the mismatched romance of reality and false beliefs on money and religious practices.

The ‘Shelter Scene’ which comprises of the action that takes place in the Salvation Army Shelter (Act II) is the tour-de-force of Major Barbara. The scene is significant because it throws light upon many issues relating to the workings of the Salvation Army in particular and all religious organizations in general. Read More George Bernard Shaw It also throws significant light on one of the most major issues of the play the theme of money though the Primary purpose of the playwright is to discuss his ideas relating to money and religious practices; the scene is intensely dramatic and full of tension.

                The scene begins with a picture of the shabby atmosphere of damp, cold and misery prevalent in the Salvation lass Jenny Hill shows the spirit of joyful inspiration that motivates the Salvation Army volunteers. Shortly, Barbara’s deep devotion to the cause of the Army is also evident Cusins later points out to Undershaft that the most fascinating aspects of the Salvation Army are its qualities of joy, love and courage, that it has banished the fear and remorse and despair of the old hell ridden evangelical seals, that the Army marches to fight the devil with trumpet and drum, with music and dancing, with banner and palm, as becomes a Sally from Heaven by its happy garrison. Read More George Bernard Shaw This quality of joyful spiritual gusto is made evident in the characters of Jenny Hill and Barbara. Barbara is presented as an embodiment of spiritual beauty. Everywhere and every time, she is in complete command of the situation. Her spiritual grace is coupled with calm and a rare tactfulness and wit. This is most evident in her scene with Bill Walker. Bill is a ruffian who comes to the Shelter to snatch way Mog Hobboum, a poor girl whom the Salvationists have rescued from his clutches. The thwarted Bill fuming in anger commits violence by brutally hitting Jenny Hill and bruising her face. Barbara knows that by mere condemnation of Bill’s faults, she will never be able to salvage his soul. So, with immense calm and tolerance and with a high degree of tactfulness she time and again tries to rouse compunction and remorse in the hard heart of Bill. We understand that would have own over it finally, had not Undershaft and practical power of money, and disillusioned him in the scene.

 Side by side with the image of religious earnestness Shaw gives a picture of the bleaker side religious practices of the Army. First, we find that the converts like Rummy Mitchens, Snobby Price and Peter Shirley are not sinners who have come to be rescued spiritually by the Army, that they are least bothered with the saving of their souls and that poverty has practically forced them to come to the shelter for a mere piece of bread and treacle. Read More George Bernard Shaw These converts cannot even afford the basic necessities of life. Shaw, therefore, questions the validity of the basic foundation of the Army whose purpose is to salvage the human soul.

                The shelter scene also shatters certain illusions. All Christian religious institutions believe in ritualistic practices like conversion and confession. That these two facets of religion are actually hallow shams is proved by the fact that even after his conversion, Snobby’s essential nature does not change, that he resorts to theft the moment he finds an opportunity to do so. Thus the illusion behind the sanctity of the idea of conversion is pricked by Shaw. Read More George Bernard Shaw Moreover we learn that the sensational confessions that Snobby indulged in where all concocted, that he had never committed the crimes that he had confessed to have done. Shaw thus suggests that there is no pious validity behind the idea of confession.

                Finally, it comes the question of money. The moment Undershaft comes to the scene, he starts propaganda in favour of his religion, which largely on the power of money. He even boastfully asserts to Cusins that his money can buy not only Barbara but even the entire Salvation Army itself. He says, “all religious organizations exist by selling themselves to the rich”. Initially, Cusins is horribly shocked at such a declaration. Mrs. Baines comes with the information that one Lord Saxmundham has promised them 5000 pounds provided that another 5000 are donated to the Army by other sources, and when Undershaft readily agrees to pay the rest 5000, many illusions are shattered to pieces. We learn that Lord Saxmundham is actually the wine manufacturer Bodger, and that it is the ‘tainted’ money of Bodger to survive. Read More George Bernard Shaw Undershaft’s statement about the dependence of religion on money is actually a Shavian pointer to the veils of illusion that popularly accumulate round the common nations about religious autonomy and the sanctity of religious institutions. All these are brought out not through dry discussion of theoretical facts, but every where Shaw’s sparkling wit and humour enliven the dialogue and account for comic pleasure.

Ardhendu De     
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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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