Major Barbara

Quotes

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

there are millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill fed, ill clothed people. They poison us morally and physically: they kill the happiness of society: they force us to do away with our own liberties and to organize unnatural cruelties for fear they should rise against us and drag us down into their abyss. Only fools fear crime: we all fear poverty.

This excerpt comes from Undershaft's speech to his family at Perivale St. Andrews in the latter half of Act III. It serves as another elaboration of the gospel of the millionaire.

Here Undershaft declares that the worst crime among men is not murder, but the "crime of poverty." As the passage makes clear, this crime is hardly victimless and it is committed against society itself. Moreover, the poor are the perpetrators, appearing as abject masses from some paranoid fantasy. They kill society's happiness, forcing us to eliminate our liberties and organize "unnatural cruelties" to keep them in check. It is clear that "society" here means the ruling class.

Undershaft will pit himself against poverty, not for the love of the people, but, more chillingly, in the name of order and cleanliness. Indeed, for Undershaft, order and cleanliness are categorical imperatives of sorts and they justify themselves. Though the realization of these imperatives would ostensibly benefit the masses, we can readily imagine how they might come at their expense as well. Simply put, the institution of order and cleanliness easily means the elimination of the disorderly and unclean. Recall then Undershaft's unsettling invocation of the Salvation Army's motto in Act I: "My sort of blood cleanses: my sort of fire purifies."