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Major Barbara

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title · Major Barbara

author · George Bernard Shaw

type of work · Drama

genre · Melodrama

language · English

time and place written · Written in London, early 1900s

date of first publication · 1907; first produced in 1905 at the Royal Court Theater, London

publisher · Cox and Wyman, Ltd.

narrator · None

point of view · Point of view is not located as there is no narrator figure

tone · Ironic; cheeky; bombastic; ecstatic

tense · The play unfolds in the time of the present

setting (time) · January 1906

setting (place) · The library of Lady Britomart's home; the Salvation Army shelter; Perivale Saint Andrews.

protagonists · Barbara, Andrew Undershaft, Adolphus Cusins

major conflict · Needing to assure her children's respective futures, Lady Britomart has invited her ex-husband, the great military industrialist Andrew Undershaft, to meet his long-estranged family. Her eldest daughter Barbara is a major in the Salvation Army, intent on saving her father's soul. Undershaft, however, offers his gospel of money and gunpowder. Father and daughter strike a bargain: each will visit the other's place of work in a competition for the other's soul and the true path of salvation.

rising action · The play begins to prepare for its climax when Undershaft divulges his plan to purchase the Salvation Army to Cusins. A dialogue between he, Cusins, Barbara, and Army Commissioner Baines follows in which he craftily exacts his will.

climax · The play's most readily identifiable climax comes in Act II upon Undershaft's purchase of the Salvation Army and Barbara's resignation. Undershaft and Cusins lead a violently ecstatic march through the streets celebrating his patronage.

falling action · A crushed Barbara makes peace with Bill Walker, a young tough she almost converted, promises to get the honest Peter Shirley a job at her father's armory, and asks Peter to keep her company this afternoon.

themes · The crime of poverty and the ideal community; arms and the man; the will to killing

motifs · Class and dialect; the foundling

symbols · The drum; the dummy soldiers

foreshadowing · Major Barbara does not particularly make use of foreshadowing. Certainly Cusins's fascination with Undershaft from their meeting onward, however, foreshadows his conversion to his gospel of money and gunpowder.