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Free Study Guide for Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw-MonkeyNotes
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In this Act, the scene of action shifts to the Salvation Army Shelter in West Ham, where Barbara serves as a Major. Jenny, a sincere girl of eighteen, works at the shelter and tries to help people in distress. Snobby Price and Ramola Mitchens are introduced as people who have joined the Salvation Army for reasons other than the spiritual. Snobby, an intelligent employee, is only working to receive a paycheck; Ramola, usually called Rummy, is at the shelter to escape from starvation. As Snobby Price and Rummy sit in the yard outside the Shelter, Jenny enters leading a tired, sickly man called Peter Shirley. He is an honest, upright worker who looks older than he is. His past employer has dismissed him because he thinks Peter Shirley is too old to work. Unable to find a job, Peter was literally starving when he arrived at the shelter. It hurts Peter to accept what he considers charity from the Salvation Army, since he has always worked to earn his bread. When Jenny offers him food and milk, she tells him to consider it a loan, which he can pay back when he gets a job. This explanation makes Peter feel much better.

While Peter is having his meager meal, a hefty man called Bill walks into the yard. As soon as he sees Jenny, he abuses her and demands to know where his girl, Mog Ebbijem, is. Bill is upset because he thinks it is because of the Salvation Army that his girl has left him. In a fit of anger, he takes Jenny by her arm and flings her against the door of the shelter. While Rummy helps her to her feet, Snobby Price unsuccessfully tries to stop Bill. When Rummy rushes up to Bill to scold him for behavior, Bill seizes Jenny by her hair and twists her arm until she cries out in pain. Snobby Price is too scared to intervene. Jenny pleads with Snobby and Rummy to go and tell Major Barbara about the incident, and they leave to go and find her. Angered over her sending for Major Barbara, Bill hits Jenny on her face, causing her to run into the shed crying in pain. Bill then turns threateningly towards the sickly Peter, who has been watching from a distance. He calls Bill a bully and tells him to go and work somewhere instead of hitting women. The two men start arguing, and Peter challenges Bill to fight his young son-in law's brother, who is a heavy weight champion. As Barbara enters with a notebook in her hand, Peter informs Bill that the Major is the granddaughter of an Earl.

Major Barbara first addresses Peter, writing down his name and the type of work he has done; she promises to help him find another job. Next, she turns to Bill and asks him his name. Although he tells her his name is Bill Walker, he is rude to Barbara and haughtily asks her if she can save his soul too. Barbara handles him very calmly. She tells him that Mog, Bill's ex-girlfriend, has become a true Christian and is working for the Salvation Army at their barracks in Canning Town. Bill says he will go and find her, but Barbara informs him that Mog has found herself another 'bloke.' Bill says he will teach both of them a good lesson. Then, however, he learns that the 'bloke' Mog is engaged to none other than the brother of Peter Shirley's son-in law, the prizefighter whose name is Sergeant Todger Fairmile. Upon learning this, Bill becomes a little less hostile and less self- confident self. Jenny re-enters and forgives Bill for what he has done to her. This act of kindness leaves him speechless.

Price comes in to announce the arrival of Mr. Undershaft. Barbara goes out to meet him while Bill sulks in the corner. Barbara soon returns, accompanied by her father. She introduces him to Peter Shirley and says that her father is a secularist, just like Peter; he believes that religion is a private matter and not something that should be openly demonstrated. Undershaft seems horrified at Barbara's words. He claims that he is a millionaire and believes that is all the religion he needs. Peter states that he is not rich, but he is proud about it. To this, Undershaft answers, "Poverty, my friend is not a thing to be proud of." Peter does not agree and angrily asks Undershaft who has really made all the money for him. Before Undershaft can answer, Peter explains that poor people like himself have remained in poverty even though they have toiled to keep people like Undershaft rich. He goes on to add that he would not have Undershaft's conscience, even if he were paid all of Undershaft's wealth. Undershaft replies that he would not have Peter's income for all his conscience. Even before Peter Shirley can retort back, Barbara intervenes and sends him inside to help the girls.

Undershaft settles down on a sofa in the corner and tells his daughter to carry on with her work. Barbara turns to Bill, who has been quietly sitting in a corner looking rather deflated. Her father sits watching Barbara deal gently and firmly with Bill. When Adolphous Cusins arrives, Bill seizes his opportunity and escapes through the gate.

Barbara asks Cusins to explain to her father how the shelter functions, while she goes inside to tend to an important matter. Cusins and Undershaft debate about the question of religion, about the value of the Salvation Army, and finally about Barbara, the woman that they both love. During the course of a rather heated discussion, Undershaft declares that he plans to hand his ammunition factory over to Barbara sometime in the future. First, however, he must woo her away from the Salvation Army. He tells Cusins that if necessary, he will even buy the Salvation Army. In fact, Undershaft already believes that: all religious organizations exist by selling themselves to the rich.

While Cusins and Undershaft continue to debate, Shirley, Price, Jenny, and Barbara enter, returning from a public prayer meeting in Cripps' Lane. During the meeting, Price has made a public confession of his past deeds and prays for forgiveness. They also state that they have managed to collect four and ten pence. When Mr. Undershaft offers to contribute a few more pennies to make it five shillings, Barbara refuses to take his money. She disapproves of the fact that his wealth has come from selling canons and guns. Additionally, Barbara explains that what she needs is a lot of money, not a few pennies. She adds that it makes her sad that she must spend so much time collecting money for the Salvation Army, leaving her with very little time to work to save people's souls. She wonders aloud, her eyes brimming with tears, as to how she is going to feed the poor with such meager funds. She states, "I can't talk religion to a man with bodily hunger in his eyes." Jenny tries to console her, saying that they will pray for money to do their work. Barbara quickly regains her composure and informs Mr. Undershaft that Mrs. Bains, the Commissioner of the Salvation Army, wants to see him.

Bill appears again and offers to give some money in order to stop Barbara and Jenny from pestering him with their lectures on forgiveness and salvation. Barbara also refuses to take Bill's money, stating that the Army is not up for sale or bribery. Mrs. Bains appears on the scene and informs the others that Lord Saxmundham has promised them five thousand pounds on the condition that five other rich gentlemen give a thousand pounds each, for a grand total of ten thousand pounds. When Barbara discovers that Lord Saxmundham is none other than Lord Bodgers, who owns a liquor distillery; she is shocked. She has always refused to take contributions from people who make money through what she considers morally wrong methods. Liquor money is especially despicable to her, for alcohol is one of the greatest problems amongst the poor with whom she works; she has seen firsthand how liquor can cause havoc in people's lives. She is totally distressed to think that the Salvation Army would readily accept money from a liquor baron. She grows even more distressed when Mrs. Bains asks Mr. Undershaft, the arms baron, to contribute some money to the Salvation Army. She encourages him to make the donation by saying that the organization really helps the rich in the long run. When Mr. Undershaft gives Mrs. Bains a check, she accepts it with great joy. She even calls for a huge celebration to announce the fact that Mr. Undershaft has saved the Salvation Army shelter.

The acceptance of Mr. Undershaft's money by the Salvation Army comes as a severe blow to Barbara. Suddenly all her ideals and illusions about the Army are destroyed. Hurt and disillusioned, she decides to permanently leave the shelter. With a heavy heart, she removes her badge and pins it on her father's collar. She then leaves to attend a prayer meeting with Mrs. Bains and the others. Mr. Undershaft feels he has won back his daughter. He tells Cusins triumphantly, " My ducats and my daughter"!


This Act is the most crucial one in the play, for it contains the climax of the plot. Shaw also reveals his views on charitable organizations, such as the Salvation Army. The act is also filled with contrasts, which bring out the irony in the play. Mr. Shirley is clearly contrasted with Mr. Undershaft. Shirley is an honest, principled worker without a job, for he has been dismissed because of his age. Mr. Undershaft, a millionaire, does not seem to have any scruples or principles; for him his religion is wealth. The verbal duel that occurs between the two provides both light moments and interesting insights. Barbara's idealism is pitted against Undershaft's outright pragmatism.

Shaw also reveals his views on the Salvation Army in this chapter. Through the characters of Price and Rummy, Shaw points out that the Salvation Army provides shelter to hypocrites; but he believes that it is poverty and starvation that lead to their hypocrisy. Undershaft, who seems to be the mouthpiece of Shaw, believes that the best way to help the poor is to provide them with jobs so that they can become independent. Cusins claims that the Salvation Army reforms the poor into honest, happy, sober people and makes them think about God. Undershaft replies that these qualities help the industrialists for, if his workers are happy, they will not be dissatisfied at work. If they are made to think about God, they will not think about Revolution. Honest workers, according to him, are the most beneficial to management. Therefore, religious organizations like the Salvation Army help rich industrialists and manufacturers. This is the reason that corporations, such as Undershaft's, patronize and fund such religious institutions. Through Undershaft, Shaw also criticizes the idea of public confession of sins, as he believes that once the sinner is forgiven, he becomes free to sin again.

Mrs. Bains, the commissioner of the Salvation Army, represents the leadership of charitable organizations, such as the Salvation Army. She is very much aware of the fact that her organization benefits the rich industrialists. As a result, she has no problem about taking funds from the very businessmen who cause havoc in the lives of the poor. This point is brought out sharply when Mrs. Bains accepts money from Lord Saxmundham, the owner of Bodger Distilleries and from Undershaft, the owner of a munitions factory.

The reaction of Barbara to Mrs. Bains' acceptance of donations from Lord Saxmundham and Undershaft is extreme; because she is so idealistic, reality is shocking to her. Barbara is so disillusioned, however, that she decides to leave her job at the shelter and takes off her pins. She, however, seems to be the only one who is affected by the donations; Snobby Price, Jenny, and Mrs. Bains accept them as something natural. The fact that Barbara is shocked and hurt reveals that she is an extremely honest individual, as well as a committed worker. Her decision to leave the shelter pains her; it does not, however, change her religious fervor. At the end of the act, she is headed to a prayer meeting.

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