Major Barbara

“Converting Starving Men with a Bible is Cheap Work”: Shaw’s Perspectives on Money, Salvation, and Poverty in Major Barbara

In Major Barbara (1907), George Bernard Shaw questions the prevailing ethical assumptions and attitudes of Western culture on social engineering and poverty. Like Nietzsche, he calls for the revaluation of values, as the meaning of concepts like “good,” “evil,” and “truth,” with no eternal, rigid, absolute, objective meaning, depends on an ever-shifting context of the will to power and the practical world. Written with a sense of perspectivism, it challenges the audience to struggle with its own prejudices, forcing inward reflection. For Shaw, Christian values no longer fit the context, the world situation – “God is dead; but given the way people are, there may still for a millennia be caves in which they show his shadow” (Nietzsche 108), god died and Christianity survived its death. The Salvation Army center that Barbara works at is the cave where the shadow persists; “I see no darkness here [Perivale St. Andrews], no dreadfulness. In your Salvation center, I saw poverty, misery, cold, and hunger. You gave them bread and treacle dreams of heaven” (Shaw 155). A god has “fled, ” its light burnt out, closing a past world of understanding, serving no useful purpose for reality (its ways nothing but mere illusions); Cusins, after...

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