Alfred Turco, Jr.
Conceptually Shaw's most ambitious play, Major Barbara (1905) is also the one least capable of being understood in isolation from his overall development. This drama poses enormous critical difficulties, nearly all of which concern the central character, Andrew Undershaft. Though in my opinion Major Barbara is finally not a successful work, it deserves and will repay the most careful study. Lesser writers might well envy Shaw the distinction of having produced a failure on this level.
There are some initial difficulties that must be cleared away. First, one must understand Shaw's technique of treating the play as a kind of game between himself and his audience; second, one must avoid some common misconstructions concerning the relation between Shaw and purported sources such as Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil; finally, it is important to see that any literal interpretation will be distorted. Misunderstanding in almost every instance comes down to confusion on one of the above points.
Many have felt that Major Barbara suffers from its author's propensity to carry paradoxical wit to cynical extremes. Why was it necessary for Shaw to trace the well-being of Undershaft's employees to the manufacture of destructive armaments; would not an automobile factory have done as well? A number of readers have followed Chesterton in interpreting Barbara's "conversion" to her father's views____________________