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"Analysis of Bernard Shaw's 'Candida' " (Part 3)

Updated on October 18, 2016

George Bernard Shaw

J. F. D. Maurice, Theologian

The Fatherhood of God

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Socialism vs. Capitalism

The following section aims to examine the contributions of prominent characters in Candida and in Major Barbara to one of Shaw’s favorite themes: socialism vs. capitalism. Besides reviewing the ways of socialist Morell and of the capitalist Burgess from Candida, it will also look briefly at Andrew Undershaft in Major Barbara to discover any contrasts.

The Aim of Socialism

Bernard Shaw portrays Reverend James Morell as an active participant in the Christian Socialist movement—a cult that began in 1848 under the leadership of Broad Church Anglican ministers J. F. D. Maurice and Charles Kingsley. This conglomerate, opposed by evangelicals over their definition of salvation and by Anglo-Catholicism over their stand on ritual, emphasizes social reform (ending poverty, slums, and sweat la-bor) [Crompton 31]. Christian Socialism believes that “the Kingdom of God is the progressive social organization and improvement of mankind, in which society rather than the individual is given first place” (Mc Clain 11). Rauschenbush writes that the main task of the Church is, therefore, to establish a Christian Social Order which in turn will actually make “bad men do good things” (qtd. in McClain 11). Later, the movement changed to espouse a High-Church (Anglo-Catholic) morality, so that the “Church of England slum parishes of East London were manned almost exclusively by Anglo-Catholic socialists, who were ardent sacramentalists and made much of the cult of the Virgin.” Such a one is James Morell, the minister of St. Dominic’s (Crompton 32).

Candida opens in Morell’s sitting room with telltale manuscripts and literature—Browning’s poems, Maurice’s Theological Essays, Fabian Essays, Das Kapital—cluttering up the office. Shaw describes him as an active member of local socialist groups—not unlike the author himself—and a “first-rate clergyman” (Nelson 13). In his conversation with Prossy, he calls Communists “relatives,” because they have the same Father in heaven (14). Thus, he considers himself a faithful proponent of the Fatherhood of God doctrine, espousing one of the social gospel’s philosophical tendencies.

Morell also reinterprets biblical terms according to his socialistic framework. To him, “converted” means reformed only in behavior, not reborn spiritually; he applies the idea in “apostate” to its having an economic significance rather than spiritual one (24). In his endeavor to convince Marchbanks of the worthwhile goal of his socialistic preaching, he contends that “God has given us a world that nothing but our own folly keeps from being a paradise” (36). Thus, he espouses an optimistic humanism that does not regard man’s sinfulness as too high an obstacle to surmount. That neither eighteen year-old Eugene “buys into” Morell’s pitch (36-7), nor does Candida accept his theological and social views (52-3), does not diminish Shaw from presenting socialism in a positive light.

Andrew Undershaft

Undershaft (left)
Undershaft (left)

"Big Business"

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The Faces of Capitalism

On the other hand, Shaw viciously denigrates Burgess as a typical fat capitalist “made coarse and sordid by the compulsory selfishness of petty commerce” (19), and portrays him as one who maintains the philosophy, “Keep the poor poor, keep the money with the rich.” His description of this man: priceless satire (19-20). As Candida’s father, he visits Morell to forgive him for having “done him out of a contract.” Morell had shamed people out of accepting Burgess’s tender, because the latter paid women low wages. Now Burgess claims to have changed his ways. Having learned, however, of his greedy motive for reconciling with him, a powerful representative of the Socialist ministerium, Morell tells Burgess to be the scoundrel that he is, and do not pretend to be changed (24). At play’s end, Burgess attends Morell’s brilliant speech so that he can make economic inroads with the chairman of the Guild of St. Matthew (71). Clearly, Shaw makes the fat, old man into a laughingstock.

Another prominent capitalist in Shaw’s plays, Andrew Undershaft, presents a different portrait, however. A millionaire munitions maker, a powerful force in country and continent, a man whose religion is money, but also the absentee father of Barbara, the Salvation Army major, whose enthusiastic commitment to her work to “save souls,” Undershaft challenges Barbara to a wager: "Who will convert the other to his/her “religion”? Hating poverty, calling it the worst of crimes, he wants to redirect Barbara’s misplaced energy into service of the Life-Force. Whereas the philistine Burgess merely acts as a foil for Morell, Undershaft, a realist, plays a significant role in the plot and climax of Major Barbara as he chooses Cusins to be the heir of his munitions works. Shaw recognized that the capitalistic system allows people of energy and ambition to thrive, that it gives them the tools to exercise their natural ability. In the right hands (as Shaw so arranged it at the play’s end with Cusins and Barbara coming into power), “big business” can do good things.

© 2015 glynch1


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      glynch1 2 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Bill,

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      William Kovacic 2 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Hi Greg,

      I can tell a lot of detail and study have gone into these hubs. My only problem is I never get any notifications when those I follow publish, so I'm kind of hit and miss with your articles. Nevertheless, I'm glad when I'm able to catch one. Keep going, my friend!