Margery M. Morgan
Major Barbara has been generally acclaimed as one of Shaw's finest plays. The impact it made on Brecht is indicated by the extent to which it inspired St Joan of the Stockyards. Francis Fergusson's account of it [in The Idea of a Theater] as a "farce of rationalizing," however denigratory in tone, is true to the quicksilver brilliance and buoyancy of the play, as careful analysis cannot be. To attempt such analysis would be misguided if it were not necessary to show that the intellectual intricacy of the dramatic structure is precise, not confused, and that Shaw now handles his ironies with a clarity and control lacking in the comparably ironic Candida.
The mainspring of the play seems to have been provided by Shaw's response to Blake, reinforced by a reading of Nietzsche where he is closest to Blake. The dialectical terms of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell provide the intellectual perspectives of the drama:
Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religions call good and evil. Good is the passive that obeys reason; evil is the active springing from energy.
Good is heaven. Evil is hell.