Major Barbara: Act 3 Part 2


A description of Perivale St Andrews is given, which is where the cannon works is based. It lies between two Middlesex hills and is an almost smokeless town of white walls, tall trees and domes. It is ‘beautifully situated and beautiful in itself.’ The foundry is described and Barbara is standing on a firestep looking over the parapet into town. A cannon is on her right and several dummy soldiers have been shoved out of the way.
Cusins appears and she asks him, ‘well?’ He says there is not a ray of hope as everything is perfect and wonderful: ‘It only needs a cathedral to be a heavenly city instead of a hellish one.’ She asks about Peter Shirley and he says a job has been found for him there as a gatekeeper and timekeeper.
Stephen comes over and shows his enthusiasm for the place too. He also says that the employees call their father ‘Dandy Andy’ and are proud to work for him. Sarah is similarly impressed and asks if they have seen the nursing home, ball room and town hall; Stephen then mentions the libraries and schools.
Undershaft appears and is holding a sheaf of telegrams. He has received good news from Manchuria as the aerial battleship has been a ‘tremendous success’. A fort with 300 soldiers has been wiped out. Cusins asks if he means dummy soldiers and Undershaft says no, ‘the real thing’, and brutally kicks a dummy soldier out of the way as he walks towards Stephen.
He asks Stephen what he thinks of the works and Stephen describes it as ‘a perfect triumph of modern industry’. Stephen has only one misgiving as he believes all the provisions for the workers may ‘sap their independence and weaken their sense of responsibility’. Undershaft counters this with the point that they have sufficient anxiety provided by ‘the fact that we may be blown to smithereens at any moment’.
Lady Britomart enters and is also impressed with the business and employee provisions. She is carrying a bouquet that was given to her at the William Morris Labor Church. She describes how his words are written in mosaic in ten feet high letters. They say, ‘no man is good enough to be another man’s master’. Undershaft explains that this shocked the men at first, but they take no more notice of it now than they do of the ten commandments.
She returns to the subject of the inheritance and asks if Cusins could succeed to it. Undershaft says his ‘new blood’ would be beneficial to the business, but does not fit the criteria. Cusins then confesses that his mother is his deceased wife’s sister; their marriage is legal in Australia, but not in England. Undershaft tells him he is eligible to take over, but would have to change his name. After saying there is an ‘abyss of moral horror’ between them, Cusins then goes on to negotiate his income. Undershaft notes his terms and offers him half. Cusins finally agrees to accept three fifths of his desired amount, although he is not sure if this is more than half.
Barbara asks Cusins if his soul belongs to her father now and he says no: only the price is settled. Undershaft informs him he must keep to ‘the true faith of the Armorer’ and give arms to all men who offer an honest price for them. Cusins argues he will sell and refuse to who he pleases, but Undershaft warns him that when he becomes Andrew Undershaft he will never do as he pleases again. He goes on to say that only Barbara understands what power really means and takes her hands.
She says that until yesterday she was in the power of God. She felt safe until her father wrote the check and compares it to an earthquake. She is now waiting in dread for the second one. He tells her to scrap her religion and find one that fits. He claims to have saved his workers’ souls as he has saved hers and is revolted by this.
He explains that his money has enabled her to become Major Barbara and has saved her from the crime of poverty. He expands on this and argues that poverty is the worse of crimes as it blights cities and spreads pestilence. He tells her not to be a hypocrite and to try her hands on his men as, ‘their souls are hungry because their bodies are full’. After she asks him if she should leave the east end to starve, he explains that he too was an east ender who ‘moralized and starved’ until he decided to be a ‘full-fed free man at all costs’. He argues that moralists make virtues of poverty and starvation and he would rather be a thief than a pauper.
This section appears to still be critical of the arms industry, and yet it also offers the argument that it is impossible to escape from the influence of capitalism. This is broached when Undershaft points out to Barbara that it is his money that has enabled her to become Major Barbara. Without money, he argues, there is only poverty and thus the play moves from an idealization of socialism to a form of acceptance of the inevitability of capitalism. This may be regarded as defeatist in the face of the dominant economic system. It may be seen simultaneously as pragmatic: without money gained from the arms industry, Barbara would not have been able to preach her Christian gospel.
The Christian morality that would favor a pauper rather than a thief is also examined here. There is a direct criticism of the hypocrisy involved in this tenet and Undershaft, the hypocrisy-free arch capitalist, is ironically the one to point this out.