Theme of Major Barbara is the education of Barbara-- broken illusions of Barbara

Bernard Shaw was a professed iconoclast. In all his plays he undertakes in principle to shatter convention illusions or romantic myths that have accrued through time upon some social or moral concepts. For example, in Arms and the Man Shaw exposes the hollowness of the romantic concepts about love and war, in Mrs. Warren’s Profession he blows up the myths round prostitution and The Widower’s Houses the concepts of sham landlord-ism and so on. Similarly, in Major Barbara Shaw debunks the hollowness of institutionalized Christianity. The purpose is served by the shattering of illusions and the consequent education of Barbara. Her education is primarily structured through a series of conversations on morality, religion, and social engineering and it becomes a promise of society's redemption.

 Barbara is a charged idealist, a Major in the Salvation Army. She is a missionary solely imbued with idealistic notion of Christianity. The granddaughter of an Earl and the daughter of a millionaire, she has sacrificed all comforts and luxuries in life, dispensed with her personal maid and lives on a pound a week. When she is faced with the prospect of meeting her father for the first time since her early childhood, she is not emotionally excited, but considers her father as a potential client of the Army whose soul can be saved. She is deeply convinced about the set notions of Christian morality, that money is in itself bad, and that money earned through evil means is worse, that drunkenness is sin, that murder and violence are horrible crimes against humanity. Thus she considers her father Andrew Undershaft, who earns fabulously through the sale of ammunition potentially evil, a person whose soul requires salvation from sin and evil. 

            The direct contact with Undershaft brings Barbara face to face with horrible reality. Undershaft breaks her illusion when he shows her hat the Salvation Army is solely dependent on the money of the capitalists like Badger and Undershaft who deal with drunkenness and destruction. At the end of the ‘shelter scene’ when Barbara realizes the utter dependent of the Salvation Army on large capital, she is completely disappointed. She discovers as well that as an individual one is utterly dependent on corrupt social organizations. Money is the boa constrictor from whose embrace even a riotous person has no escape. Barbara, at the end of Act II, has her illusions shattered only to realize that even Salvation is in one way utterly dependent on so-called devil Dom. She finds out to her dismay that the temple of God has to be built by mammon that the seven Deadly sins, have to be conquered by money. As a Christian missionary she has so long preached against riches, and now it is obvious that her entire faith is crumbling down. Hence her cry of desperation, “My God, why hast thou for saken me?”
  In Act III it is Undershaft who points out once again that even as an individual Barbara had so long been dependent upon money:
     “I fed you and clothed you and housed you …………… that saved your soul from the seven deadly sins………… I lifted them from your spirit. I enabled Barbara to become Major Barbara; and I saved her from the crime of poverty.” And Barbara, too, acknowledged at she could not fight the reality of Undershaft with her romantic myth about religion. And that is why Barbara confesses her shock:
“I stood on the rock I thought eternal and without a word of warning it reeled and crumbled under me.”

  Barbara’s illusions about religious practices like confession and conversion are also shattered when she learns at the end of Act II that Snobby Price, in spite of his conversion, did not change intrinsically, since he stooped to steal the crown of Bill Walker at the time of his departure from the shelter. We also learned that the Army’s so called insistence on confession is a hollow sham when we find that Snobby Price or Rummy Mitchens actually pretended to be sinful while they were  really so and that Snobby was inventing this confession only to arouse sensational responses from the audience.

            With the shattering of illusion Barbara, however, does not throw her flag down. She is not finally converted to her father’s religion of money and gunpowder. Though her illusion about the Salvation Army in particular and institutionalized religion in general is destroyed, she does not lose faith upon the necessity of Salvation. Only she has matured enough to realize that turning our back on Bodger and Undershaft is turning backs on life. She, with her renewed understanding, now acknowledges that money is a necessary evil and yet it is a part of the reality of life. And, therefore, she decides to take up the challenge to work for the salvation of the human souls to be saved; not weak souls in starved bodies …………. But fullfed, quarrelsome, snobbish, apish creatures ……… that is where salvation is really wanted.” Barbara now understands that an individual can not have religion as long as he is poor; only where the bodies are full, the souls are hungry. That is why Barbara says that she has “got rid of the bride of Bread ……… of the bride of heaven”. Barbara’s final statement shows her heroic will, and her deep devotion to salvation is only strengthened with her illusions shorn off. Her final mission will be “The raising of hell to heaven and of man to God, through the unveiling of an eternal light in the valley of the shadow………… Major Barbara will die with the colors”.

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

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