AD's English Literature : George Bernard Shaw: The Man- A Saint of the Life Force

George Bernard Shaw: The Man- A Saint of the Life Force

  Shaw  is a bachelor, an Irishman, a vegetarian, a fluent liar, a social democrat, a lecturer and debater, a lover of music, a fierce opponent of the present status of women and an insister on the seriousness of art.” ....

 This is what George Bernard Shaw wrote to describe himself to a journalist quite early in life. If it was true of Shaw when he wrote this, it was true of him till the end of his long life except in one respect that he died not as a bachelor but as a married man. As a matter of fact Shaw was essentially the same man all through his almost a century old long life. “Old at sixty or young at eighty, adventurous or responsible, Bernard Shaw has not changed. He is always the same in everything that matters. All his developments are reflections of his one first vision; all his plays form a cycle of mystical faith in which he proclaims that each one of us is a Man of Destiny, a servant of the Life Force, a temple of the Holy Ghost.”

  Shaw  was the most outstanding man of his time. He was a dominating personality, a proponent world figure beyond the vulgar clutch of mortality. He bestrode the modern busy world like a colossus. If he uttered a single word or made a gesture or expressed an idiosyncrasy of his mind, it was at once flashed across the world from one end to the other. His plays may be forgotten future. But he will go down to posterity as the most vivid and arresting personality of his age.

George Bernard Shaw
  was fully conscious of his own extraordinary powers. Before he came to be known as a dramatist he had already become a familiar figure at street corners and in the rooms of debating societies. By his debates, lectures and sundry writings he had so imposed his personality on the British public that he came to be popularly known as George Bernard Shaw. He wrote about himself in this regard in 1898 as follows: “For ten years past, with an unprecedented pertinacity and obstination, I have been dinning into the public head that I am an extraordinary witty, brilliant and clever man. That is now part of the public opinion of England: and no power in heaven or on earth will ever change it. I may dodder and dote; I may potboil and platitudinous; I may become the butt and chopping-block of all bright, original spirits of the rising generation; but my reputation shall not suffer: it is built up fast and solid, like Shakespeare’s on an impregnable basis of dramatic reiteration.”

  Shaw  was by nature an individualist. He was a free lance, a rebel, an iconoclast, a destructive critic and a propagandist. All through his life he was a tireless crusader against social injustice and unrighteousness. He spoke and wrote with a determination to make himself heard and to keep his hearers alert. He directed and dominated the thought of the early twentieth century in England and beyond. He preached for the moral and intellectual enlightenment of the people and for breaking the chains which had held society in mental servitude from time immemorial. He titled at “moral slavery, humbug, mental sloth, social apathy, superstition, sentimentalism, collective selfishness, and all the tests of real life and honest thought.” His attacks were bold, ruthless and fierce but they were not devoid of grace. He was careful in thought but reckless in expression. He attacked his enemies in a charming and pleasant manner and had the spirit of tolerance to take their counter attacks with good humor. He often used his wit and cold intellectual power to turn the attacks of his enemies to his own advantage.

  Shaw  was a curious blend of the two contradictory elements of human nature – the gay and the serious. At one moment he was serious and consistent, talking with earnestness about the destiny of the human race. At the next, he was gay and witty, treating certain specimens of humanity with burlesque and ridicule, sending his hearers into fits of laughter. Due to the presence of these contradictory elements in his nature one is likely to be confused whether he is to be taken as a clown or a philosopher. He has become a unique figure in literature on account of this combination “of actor and critic, of clown and prophet”. “His was not simply the gaiety of the great artist, like Shakespeare or Cervantes; it was as if the great teacher like Socrates or Christ or Buddha could not resist the temptation to diversity his sermons with somersaults.”

  Shaw  was a highly complex character with many self-contradictory traits. He was a socialist, a Fabian, a pacifist, a vegetarian, a teetotaler, and many other things. The contradictory elements of his character were bewildering to the ordinary man. This was why he was so often misunderstood by his contemporaries.

In his personal life   Shaw  was a man of simple tastes and habits. ”He did not require the stimulants and narcotics which other men take in order to endure life or to forgot that they are alive.” He was “a vegetarian, a total abstainer and non-smoker. He never played games, and his exercises were limited to walking and swimming.” A life of luxury was repellent to him and his only from of self-indulgence was over-work.” “Work to him was what meat and drink are to most human beings. He throve on it, and kept at it until he was prostrated with exhaustion.” He did not share the tastes, habits, opinions and illusions of the vast majority of his fellow-beings. He lived a life of detachment from the rest of humanity. He felt cut off from his kind, an alien on earth. A C ward has rightly summed up his stature in the following words: “  Shaw  has been for modern Britain what Socrates was for ancient Greece; and in a sense which the Greeks would have understood he may well appear in the perspective of history as the Good Man of our time.”


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