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Major Barbara | Study Guide

George Bernard Shaw

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Major Barbara | Quotes


There is no salvation ... through personal righteousness, but only through the redemption of the whole nation.

George Bernard Shaw, Preface

Shaw did not believe in salvation through atonement for sins or in forgiveness. Because he believed poverty to be the greatest sin, salvation must include delivering the whole of England from its clutches.


The Salvation Army ... is even more dependent than the church on rich people.

George Bernard Shaw, Preface

Although some critics interpreted the play as a condemnation of the Salvation Army, Shaw explains that the Army is no more corrupt than other religious organizations that benefit from donations from the wealthy. The Army simply cannot survive without the money of the rich.


Undershaft and Lazarus positively have Europe under their thumbs. That is why your father is able to behave as he does ... above the law.

Lady Britomart, Act 1

Lady Britomart tells Stephen of his father's influence. Because his products are necessary in wars, European governments depend on him. The result is that Undershaft and his business partner, Lazarus, can do whatever they like without worrying about retribution.


You know the Undershaft motto: Unashamed.

Lady Britomart, Act 1

Speaking of her husband's origins, Lady Britomart tells Stephen his father's parents were not married. Undershaft has lived by this motto his entire life, unworried by conventional ideas of morality or social expectations. He feels no shame about his business or himself.


There is only one true morality for every man; but every man has not the same true morality.

Undershaft, Act 1

Undershaft expresses moral relativism by claiming one person's sense of right and wrong can be different from another's.


I am a Millionaire. That is my religion.

Undershaft, Act 2

When Barbara asks what religion her father is, believing him to be a secularist, what Undershaft responds he believes in money. He professes his faith in the goodness and power of money to save people from poverty, about which he thinks there's nothing admirable or noble.


I wouldn't have your income, not for all your conscience, Mr Shirley.

Undershaft, Act 2

Peter Shirley, poor and out of work because of his age, takes verbal jabs at Undershaft because he is rich. Shirley echoes the usual rhetoric of one of the virtues of poverty: a clear conscience, which he thinks is better than wealth. Undershaft, however, is his usual pragmatic self and sees no virtue in poverty, nor does he see the connection between poverty and a clear conscience. Indeed, a clear conscience may seem of little importance if it means one must be poor.


It's your soul that's hurting you, Bill ... Come with us ... to brave manhood on earth and eternal glory in heaven.

Barbara, Act 2

Barbara talks to the violent Bill Watkins, trying to win his soul for God. She believes his salvation will not only inspire him to be a better person in the present but also win him everlasting glories in heaven.


There are two things necessary to Salvation. ... Money and gunpowder.

Undershaft, Act 2

Because Undershaft believes poverty to be a crime and a sin, to which money is the solution, money is the means of salvation. Gunpowder is the source of his wealth. With both, he has all he needs.


You can't buy our salvation here for twopence: you must work it out.

Barbara, Act 2

Barbara refuses to take a small amount of money from her father, even to give to the Salvation Army, which will close its shelter if more funds are not raised. She recognizes he is trying to buy something she believes must be honestly sought after through a real change of heart and can't be purchased in a simple monetary transaction. Her father, however, has other ideas—and does get what he wants by using his money.


Drunkenness and Murder! My God: why hast thou forsaken me?

Barbara, Act 2

Barbara is appalled to see the Salvation Army take money from a distiller and a munitions manufacturer, the enablers of drunkenness and murder, in her opinion. Thus she sees the Salvation Army can indeed be bought. Echoing the words of Christ upon the cross, she expresses her feelings of abandonment by God.


I am the government of your country.

Undershaft, Act 3

In response to Stephen's boasts about the unimpeachable character of the British government, Undershaft can't help but condemn his son's naiveté. He and his business partner might as well be the government because of the level of influence they hold over it. Undershaft claims he tells the government what to do.


The deadly seven [sins] ... food, clothing, firing, rent, taxes, respectability and children. Nothing can lift those milestones from Man's neck but money.

Undershaft, Act 3

Undershaft reiterates his belief that poverty is a sin. He explains his version of the seven deadly sins includes the kinds of needs that keep people impoverished. Money alone, he argues, can save people from these burdens, which will otherwise pull them down to their deaths.


I want a democratic power ... strong enough to force the intellectual oligarchy ... to use its genius for the general good.

Cusins, Act 3

Cusins wants to use his position as the new leader of the Undershaft company to create power for all people, power that will benefit everyone. For Cusins, this is the highest good.


Through the raising of hell to heaven and of man to God, through the unveiling of an eternal light in the Valley of The Shadow.

Barbara, Act 3

When Cusins asks if Barbara thinks salvation can be found in the arms factory, she expresses her new belief that evil things can be used to create good. Thus, she has become more pragmatic, perhaps more Machiavellian, like her father.

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