The Gospel According to Undershaft

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"I am a sort of collector of religions," remarks Adolphus Cusins, Major Barbara Undershaft's fiancé, midway through the second act of George Bernard Shaw's morality play, Major Barbara. And thus, the play can be seen as collection of varying religious, moral, and social ideals. The play centers on Barbara Undershaft and her father Andrew Undershaft, a Salvation Army Major and a millionaire arms dealer respectively, and there conflicting ideological beliefs. However, Shaw also creates the character of Adolphus Cusins, a Greek scholar, to act as an impartial buffer between the two. He is realist who looks at every belief objectively, and finds a way to see logic in them all. Through these three characters Shaw is able to show an entire spectrum of opinions regarding God, love, and salvation. Although in the end only one belief will prevail Major Barbara is structured by a contest between father and daughter for the other's soul and the path of salvation. Each agrees to visit the other's workplace and allow the other to attempt their conversion. Undershaft's visit to the Salvation Army shelter takes place in second act; Barbara goes to the armory with her family in the third act. Sadly, as one literary critic said, "It ends with a triumvirate of Barbara, her rich father, and her fiancé, a professor of ancient Greek, taking over the munitions factory. It is Shaw's vision of the alliance of the future, a trinity of spirit, body, and mind: idealism, realism, and intelligence"(Applegate). By the end, Barbara suffers a crisis of faith, and she, along with her fiancé, accept her father's of "Money and Gun Powder" philosophy. Andrew Undershaft is the wealthy owner of a munitions manufacturing company. Undershaft understands himself in participating in a greater power that controls the world, not the Salvation Army of God, but the armory proper. The Undershaft firm represents an alternative canon, charting a long tradition of Saint Andrews who have quietly held Europe under their thumbs and determined the course of history. As with his predecessors, Undershaft is a foundling who understands himself as having established himself in the world through the force of his will alone. Over and against Christian ideals of human brotherhood, the recognition Undershaft demands from his neighbor is not love but obedience and respect, a bending to his will. "He is portrayed as strong and powerful, god like almost, as one critic noted, By bringing in these associations of godhead, Shaw gives a greater substance to the effect of Undershaft"(Whittock). Undershaft's gospel is organized around the ideals of the military industrialists. As the characters come to realize, the world is not in God's power but in the power of the military industrialist. With money and gunpowder, Undershaft participates in the power that reigns over Europe, the power that determines the course of society. This re-organization of society, rather than one's faith in a religious dogma, provides the means of salvation. For Undershaft, man does not need redemption from sinfulness but from abject poverty, hunger, and sickness. The growth of Christian virtues rests fundamentally on man's material security. Undershaft wants nothing to do with a religion that abjures warfare and wealth. These evils are the necessary means by which man can be saved. Undershaft's philosophy also organizes itself around a notion the great man's "will." This will comes into being through the agonistic struggle between men. As Undershaft proclaims, a sacred commandment, "Thou shalt starve ere I starve," sets him on the path to greatness. Through a murderous struggle with others, Undershaft realizes his will and desire. Thus his "bravest enemy" is his best friend, a rival who keeps him "up to the mark." Over and against Christian ideals of human brotherhood, the recognition Undershaft demands from his neighbor is not love but obedience and respect, a bending to his will. Again, the struggle he stages...
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