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Free Study Guide for Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw-MonkeyNotes
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ACT SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

ACT III

Summary

In this act, the setting shifts back to Lady Britomart's mansion. Barbara is sitting near the window of the living room, in a pensive mood. She is no longer dressed in her Salvation Army uniform. Charles Lomax walks in and tries to make conversation with her. Lady Britomart, who is at her writing table, tells him sharply not to discuss the Army with her. Cusins soon arrives and tells everyone that he has stayed up late drinking with Mr. Undershaft. Barbara asks Cusins about the Salvation Army meeting. Cusins tells her that it was very emotional; some "117 conversions took place then and there." He also adds that everyone present at the meeting gave thanks for the Bodger contribution to the Salvation Army. Mr. Undershaft had requested that his name not be made public. When Charles compliments Mr. Undershaft for his modesty, Cusins tells him that it is not modesty; he hides his identify out of fear that other charitable institutions would come down on him for more money.

Mr. Undershaft arrives. Lady Britomart sends everybody out of the room, for she wants to talk to him alone about private matters. She tells her husband that their daughters need money, especially since they are both about to marry. Lady Britomart also brings up the subject of inheritance with her husband. She suggests Adolphous Cusins' name, since he plans to marry Barbara. Lady Britomart knows that Mr. Undershaft believes that among his children Barbara is the only one capable of running his business. Since Adolphous is a 'foundling' he could be chosen to inherit the factory; then the business could be kept within the family. To this Mr. Undershaft points out that Adolphous is not a foundling. At this juncture, Adolphous reveals that he is indeed a foundling because his parent's marriage is legal in Australia, but not in England. Since his mother is the sister of his father's deceased wife, he is considered an outcast in England, and his mother and father's marriage is not acceptable by English law. Additionally, he has not received his formal education from an English public school. Mr. Undershaft finally gives in and selects Adolphous as the heir to his business empire. Then they haggle about how much money Adolphous should receive until he actually takes over the factory. The argument ends when they both agree on three-fifths of the profits as income for Adolphous until he learns the ropes of the business.

As per her promise, Barbara agrees to go and visit her father's ammunition factory at New Perivale. Since the invitation is also extended to the others, the rest of the family, including Lady Britomart, visits the factory of 'death and destruction'. Much to everybody's surprise, the factory is set in a picturesque village that has a chapel, clean roads, and wonderful stores. The excellent organization and facilities available in the factory, as well as in the village where the workers live, impress everyone. Barbara, however, is still unable to come to terms with the fact that this wonderfully clean and beautiful place is a home to weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Undershaft tells Barbara that it is poverty and not his profession that is the real crime. He compares his industrial world to the world of the Salvation Army and says, "I see no darkness here, no dreadfulness. In your Salvation shelter I saw poverty, misery, cold, and hunger. You gave them bread and treacle and dreams of heaven. I give from thirty shillings a week to twelve thousand a year. They find their own dreams." He claims that he has saved his workers, just as he has saved Barbara by rescuing her from the shelter. His factory provides money, which allows one to buy food and clothing, pay rent and taxes, have children, feel respectable, and not fear being fired.


Poverty, according to Undershaft, is the greatest of all crimes; all other crimes are virtues by comparison. He elaborates by saying that moralists and intellectuals who make poverty a virtue are the biggest hypocrites on earth. He further believes that leading the life of a thief is better than living the life of a pauper, for to him there is more dignity and courage in theft than in abject poverty. Finished with his lecture on poverty, Undershaft leaves Cusins and Barbara alone and takes the others to show them another part of the factory. Cusins thinks that since he has accepted Undershaft's offer to inherit the factory, all will be over between Barbara and him. He tries to explain to her that he has accepted the offer to run the factory because he wants to give the common people power to use against the intellectuals who exploit them.

Surprisingly, Barbara is very happy with Cusins' decision. She also wants to give power to the factory workers -- but spiritual power. She admits her disappointment in the Salvation Army, but accepts their hypocritical ways as reality. She now feels she can do more good in the factory village as in the Army. She looks forward to 'saving souls' among the well-fed workers in her father's factory, instead of working with 'weak souls in half- starved bodies' in West Ham. The Act ends with Barbara asking her mother's help in selecting a nice house in the village where she and Cusins will live after they are married.

Notes

In this act, Shaw expresses his views on poverty, ethics, and politics through Andrew Undershaft, who ridicules the intellectuals and moralists who consider poverty to be a virtue. He is convincing because there is truth in his words. He is right when he says that man is driven by the need to pay for food, clothing, rent, taxes, and children, while seeking respectability and hoping not to be fired from his work. Undershaft calls these the seven basic sins, and believes unless these basic needs are fulfilled, man cannot be free in any real sense. He says that to talk to a half- starved man, like many of those at the Salvation Army, about ethics, spirituality, and dreams of heaven makes no sense.

Shaw uses the scene between Undershaft and his son Stephen to attack the politics of the times. He tells his son that if he is not able to do anything else in life, he can always become a politician. He explains that it is not the individual's character but his power and wealth that influence politics. Shaw adds that educated people do not change governments by exercising their right to vote; instead, they merely change the names of the members of Cabinet. Undershaft believes that only weapons or guns have the power to change governments by destroying old decaying social systems and setting up new ones. This change, however, is only possible if good and courageous people are the one to fight injustice by wielding guns.

Cusins is totally won over by Undershaft's arguments and agrees to inherit and run the ammunition factory, even if it means he will not be able to marry Barbara. Surprisingly, Barbara can even see some sense in her father's views, although she does not completely agree with him. She tells Cusins that they will still marry and live in the village where the factory is located. In truth, the idealistic young woman comes to terms with the real world in which she lives and acknowledges that the basic needs of man, such as food and clothing, need to be met before a man's soul can be saved. Barbara decides she can more successfully carry on her spiritual work in her father's ammunition factory where the people have no real materialistic needs, for Mr. Undershaft has made sure that all his workers are given the means to answer the seven requirements of man that he listed earlier. It is obvious that Barbara, though disillusioned about the Salvation Army and much more realistic about life, has not lost faith; she still believes her mission in life is to save souls.

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