Study Guide

Major Barbara Hypocrisy

By George Bernard Shaw

Hypocrisy

Well, one thing's for sure: love him or hate him, Andrew Undershaft really tries to avoid being a hypocrite. Sure, his morals seem a bit topsy turvy to the other characters (and maybe to the reader as well) since as far as he's concerned, his moral obligation is to be rich and make and sell lots of weapons so that the good and bad elements of the world alike can have a fair fight. People like Lady B and Barbara find these ideas troubling, because it means that he's enabling violence and kind of giving into greed, which is bad according to traditional Christian values. By the end of the play, though, we can kind of see where Andrew is coming from; in his view, violence is going to exist regardless, and wealth is better than poverty, so why should he take a stand against either?

Well, the sustainability of Undershaft's morality is debatable (and dealt with elsewhere in "Themes"), but it's important to notice how the actions of supposedly more "moral" people end up supporting or facilitating all kinds of bad behavior (like lying or violence). Also, these people are often dependent on the "immoral" for financial support, and don't even blink before asking for and accepting that help—which seems more than a little hypocritical. So yeah, by the end, Undershaft looks just about as moral as everyone else, if not a bit more so, since he does his best to avoid and challenge hypocrisies.

Questions About Hypocrisy

  1. Lady Brit definitely contradicts herself a lot, so at the very least she's not particularly self aware—but do you think she's an outright hypocrite? Why or why not?
  2. Does Barbara escape the charge of hypocrisy? Why or why not?
  3. Do you find any of Andrew Undershaft's positions hypocritical or inconsistent? If so, which ones?

Chew on This

Shaw includes a lot of relatively benign moments in which Lady B contradicts herself to clue us into the fact that she really is just a big honking hypocrite at heart—as we learn when she's willing to accept more money from Andrew, even though she doesn't approve of how he earned it at all.

As far as Andrew is concerned, being a hypocrite is far worse than being "immoral"—so, even if his ideas run against the dominant "morality," his willingness to call out hypocrisies and contradictions for what they are—to live in reality, that is—make him one of the most moral characters in the play.

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