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Major Barbara: A Perspective Analysis of Andrew Undershaft as Honorable Man through his Religion of Wrongness

Updated on May 12, 2011

Despite Andrew Undershaft’s reputation as a “death and destruction dealer” he is an honest and respectable man. Through accurately exhibiting that providing a person with livelihood will truly save them and not prayer, Andrew Undershaft reveals himself to be an honorable person. An honorable person is defined as one of held of high respect, great esteem; the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right; a person that brings credit and adherence to a conventional standard of conduct. Andrew Undershaft represents these beautifully. Everything Undershaft  undertakes is of a morally sound judgement and adheres to a righteous standard of conduct. Undershaft also receives great esteem and respect from his peers and family. 

Undershaft demonstrates an honorable man because he receives great esteem and respect from his peers, society, and family. The workers at his factory are well fed, housed, and treated. The town he keeps for them is described as spotlessly clean by a beautiful hillside. Although Undershaft is himself not a man of conventional religion, he complies with his strongly religious workers by having two methodist chapels: a primitive one and a sophisticated one. When questioned on his treatment of workers, Undershaft replies, “I never give them any orders. When I speak to one of them it is ‘Well Jones, is the baby doing well?’ and ‘has Mrs. Jones made a good recovery?’ ‘Nicely, thank you, sir’ And that’s all”. This is because Undershaft is considerate enough to understand that his workers face immediate danger at all times, and harsh treatment would only add to their tension. The Salvation Army respects Undershaft for his generous donation to their cause and blesses him, despite his sardonic nature behind it. Mrs. Baines  comments, “Oh sir, don’t try to be cynical: don’t be ashamed of being a good man. The Lord will bless you abundantly; and our prayers will be like a strong fortification round you all the days of your life”.

Undershaft models a conventional standard of conduct because he provides for his family and respects them dearly. Upon meeting his children again after many years, he believes with concern: “My difficulty is that if I play the part of the father, I shall produce the effect of an intrusive stranger; and if I play the part of a discreet stranger, I may appear a callous father”. Despite his devilish reputation, Undershaft shows care and compassion in addressing his family. In reality, Undershaft never left his family. His wife, Lady Britomart, could not stand Undershaft’s attitude on inheritance and chose to leave him for it. She explains, “I couldn’t forgive Andrew for preaching immorality while he practiced morality”. This immorality is simply his disinheritance of his son. “Andrew did it on principle, just as he did every wicked and perverse thing on principle” Britomart’s claim to “wicked” things Undershaft did was simply because of her want for money. But Undershaft cares for them nonetheless and provides for them financially. She even admits Undershaft’s contribution to their son Stephen, “After all Stephen, our present income comes from Andrew”. Lady Britomart’s own idea of morality is discredited because it is based on greed, not principle. “It is not a question of taking money from him or not: it is simply a question of how much” she says. So her attack on Undershaft’s morality is unjustified and hypocritical. Undershaft proves his solicitude to family even further when he consults with Stephen despite his disinheriting of him. “Freedom should be generous. Besides, I owe you a fair start in life in exchange for disinheriting you”. He gives Stephen a fair chance at life and even entertains Stephen’s superficial ideas on politics and morality.

Undershaft is honorable because he does what is morally good by protecting his family tradition. What is unaccepted by Undershaft’s peers is his idea of a family. “The Undershafts are descended from a foundling in the parish of St. Andrew Undershaft in the city...this foundling was adopted by an armorer and gun-maker. In the course of time the foundling succeeded to the business; and from some notion of gratitude, or some vow or something, he adopted another foundling, and left the business to him. And that foundling did the same. Ever since that, the cannon business has always been left to an adopted foundling named Andrew Undershaft”. The society did not understand that Undershaft was honoring his family of foundlings by keeping within this tradition. Undershaft helps the impecunious community by giving a foundling his estate. Undershaft even spends his money on a sound and honest cause. “All the spare money my trade rivals spend on hospitals, cathedrals, and other receptacles for conscience money, I devote to experiments and researches in improved methods of destroying life and property”. He does not feel guilty of his actions because he is true to the nature of his own business. It is an honest profession that is financially prosperous and Undershaft is all the more honorable for it.

Lady Britomart retorts to Stephen that Undershaft has a sort of “religion of wrongness”. Although she was referring to Undershaft’s principle of inheritance, it comments on Undershaft’s entire view of morality. Undershaft correctly sees the righteousness of morality in relation to human survival, and finds that “saving” people is to bring them out of poverty, not sin. Undershaft voiced this opinion when he spoke to Shirley and said, “Poverty, my friend, is not a thing to be proud of”. Cusins argues that morality stems from virtues such as honor, justice, truth, love, and mercy. Undershaft agrees, but points out that these virtues are simply luxuries that the rich and those of safe life can reasonably understand. According to Undershaft, there are only two things necessary for salvation: money and gunpowder. Although on the surface this mentality seems unorthodox, Undershaft realizes that without enough of both you cannot afford virtue, and therefore salvation. Even Barbara admits to this when she says, “I can’t talk religion to a man with bodily hunger in his eyes”. Undershaft realizes that without financial security one cannot delve into the realm of Christian values and therefore shows where equitable morality stems from. As Undershaft says, “Cleanliness and respectability do not need justification, Barbara: they justify themselves. I see no darkness here, no dreadfulness”. Because of it, Undershaft is well-founded moral individual of honor. Barbara’s own sense of religion, one readily received as the overall objective morality of the community, is discredited by its own practice. Its members resort to lying about their sins to receive better treatment and food. Barbara’s religion is based on the sins of others and poverty. The worse you are, the better for the salvation army. She replies to a member’s testimony, “Oh Snobby, if you had given your poor mother just one more kick, we should have go the whole five shillings!”. By the encouragement a more violent act, they would have received more money and more sympathy from the crowd toward the idea of peace and virtues. There is no virtuous morality in appearing worse to persuade another’s salvation.

Undershaft is an honorable man because he sees the proper weight of morals, and is true to himself as well as to others. Undershaft regards virtues with high esteem and respect and recognizes those who hold themselves to a set of misguided principles to not have the knowledgeable capacity to tackle things such as morality. He says to Stephen, “ You daren’t handle high explosives; but you’re all ready to handle honesty and truth and justice and the whole duty of man, and kill one another at that game.”.  He lives by the Undershaft motto, “Unashamed” and is honest to his intentions with every action. He is fair in giving his weapons to all men, regardless of their allegiances. He proclaims, “ To give arms to all men who offer an honest price for them, without respect of persons or principles”. This is received with respect and admiration from his clients, and is morally sagacious and honorable. When he says to Lady Britomart, “My dear Bitty: The Undershaft tradition disinherits him. It would be dishonest of me to leave the cannon foundry to my son”, she, a woman driven by greed and social power, responds that he is morally unjust. Morality, as Undershaft proves, is subjective to an overall objective morality of survival and human condition. He concludes, “There is only one true morality for every man; but every man has not the same true morality”. 

Undershaft himself is a saver of souls. He cares for his workers as he did his own judgmental daughter Barbara. He explains how he fed her, clothed her, and housed her. How he gave her enough financial sustenance that she could be wasteful, careless, and even generous. Above all other sins, Poverty has stood the test of time and is therefore the worst sin of them all. Give a man food, money, and a home and he will be that much closer to a virtuous character. When addressed as a rascal for this view he responds, “You lust for personal righteousness, for self approval, for what you call good conscience, for what Barbara calls salvation, for what I call patronizing people who are not so lucky as yourself”. Undershaft is considerate of these unfortunate and sees what will do them real good. Undershaft is therefore, the most virtuous character throughout the play. Because of that, Undershaft is an honorable man. 


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