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Free Study Guide for Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw-MonkeyNotes
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The structure of the play is very simplistic, containing only three acts with no scenes. All three acts are knit tightly together by time and place. The entire play occurs within a week, and the only settings are Lady Britomart's house, the Salvation Army shelter in West Ham, and Undershaft's ammunition factory. The plot is also developed in a classic manner. In the first act, the reader is introduced, in person on in conversation, to all the main characters; the conflict is also introduced as the rising action begins. The second act, the longest one in the play, fully develops the rising action towards the climax of the plot, when Barbara's idealism is shattered by the reality of the Salvation Army, and she decides to resign. In the third and final act, the falling action occurs, as Cusins agrees to run the Undershaft empire and Barbara visits her father's ammunition factory and admits that the workers are well treated. The denouement occurs when Barbara accepts the real world she is living in and decides to carry on the work of 'saving souls' among the well-fed workers in the ammunition factory who can better appreciate her teaching, since they are not poor and starving. As a result, the play ends as a comedy. Although Barbara's idealism has been tempered by reality, she has not abandoned her basic beliefs.

Although there is not much dynamic or suspenseful action in the play, it is very entertaining because of the verbal duels that take place; serious subjects, like religion, ethics, politics, and poverty, are discussed ironically and humorously. As the main characters explain their ideas and argue their points, the dialogue is often filled with typical Shavian wit. The one minor subplot of the play is also ironic. The problem of looking for a 'foundling' to inherit the Undershaft Empire is resolved when Cusins makes the 'confession' that he is indeed a foundling. His arguments for claiming that status are quite entertaining.


The main features of Shaw's style are his power of reasoning and the brilliant use of words, sparkling with humor and irony. His plays are usually intellectual, dealing with ideas that are serious and controversial, but they are developed in a light-hearted manner through Shaw's wit. Major Barbara is a typical Shaw play. All of the main characters in the play are intelligent and eloquent, never at a loss for words and often speaking with wit and irony. The struggle between idealism and realism depicted in the play is serious and controversial, but the play is filled with enough humor to make it entertaining.


1. Discuss the major Themes in the play and how they are developed.

2. What is the major conflict in the play and how is it developed and resolved?

3. Compare and contrast Andrew Undershaft to Major Barbara, Cusins, and Shirley.

4. Compare and contrast Major Barbara to Mrs. Bains, her sister Sarah, and Lady Britomart.

5. What is the role of the Salvation Army in the play?

6. Explain how Barbara has changed by the end of the play and how she plans to deal with the changes.

7. How is the plot of the play developed?

8. Explain at least three of the ironies developed by Shaw in the play.

9. Do you feel the play is realistic? Explain your answer, giving specifics from the play.

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Free Online Summary for Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw-MonkeyNotes


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