Major Barbara: Act 2 Part 2



Barbara asks Shirley for his details and is not surprised about his predicament (of being seen as too old). He tells her he has died his hair before, as she suggests, but his age was revealed at the coroner’s inquest into his daughter’s death. She asks if he is ‘steady’ and he tells her he is teetotal and has never been unemployed before. He is defensive about his religion and she guesses correctly that he is a secularist like her father. She goes on to say that they can find a job for a steady man like him, which disarms and bewilders him.
She then talks to Walker and takes his name. He continues to be insolent, but she remains sunny and fearless. He says he has come for his girl and will break her jaw when he finds her. She confirms that this is his trade (hitting women) and he feels as though he is on the verge of tears. After telling her his girlfriend’s name, Mog Habbijam, Barbara tells him she has gone to their barracks in Canning Town. As he leaves to find her, he turns on Barbara and says he will come back and do two years for her (that is, assault her) if Mog is not there. Barbara answers ‘a shade tendlier, if possible’ and says it is no use as Mog ‘has another bloke’. Walker says he will put the man’s nose out of joint for him and asks his name. She tells him it is Sergeant Todger Fairmile and Shirley rises from his seat with grim joy and says he will come with him.
Walker sits down moodily after claiming he is unafraid. Jenny comes over and Barbara asks about her injury. Jenny says it is alright now and feels no anger for Walker, ‘bless his poor heart’. He writhes in agony with a return of the new symptom (of wanting to cry), but says nothing.
Barbara leaves at the news that her father has arrived and Rummy tells Walker she would have had the law on him. She also says he is no gentleman for hitting a woman in the face, but he has greater things moving in him and takes no notice.
When Undershaft appears, Barbara introduces him to Shirley. Undershaft denies being a secularist and says his religion is that of being a millionaire. Shirley tells him he is not a millionaire and is proud of it, and Undershaft responds by saying poverty is nothing to be proud of. Shirley asks him angrily who made his millions and answers his own question by saying he and his like did. He also tells Undershaft, ‘I wouldn’t have your conscience, not for all your income’ and Undershaft retaliates by saying he would not have his income for all his conscience. Barbara steps in and asks Shirley to help the women in the shelter.
This discussion between Shirley and Undershaft may be interpreted as one between proletariat and capitalist as Shirley pointedly asks Undershaft who made his millions for him. It is telling that Undershaft is given the chance to retaliate and speak over Shirley and because of this, the play may be read as only offering a limited critique of the arms trade and capitalism. Shirley is allowed to make the point that Undershaft has made his money by exploiting the labour of others, and yet this is left unaddressed as Undershaft argues in favor of income over conscience.