Study Guide

Major Barbara Morality

By George Bernard Shaw

Morality

Morality is a huge topic for the play's characters; every time you turn around, someone is getting all philosophical about the difference between right and wrong—and usually getting ruffled about someone else's opinion in the process. The "Big Bad Wolf"—as far as morality goes—is Andrew Undershaft…at least, for most of the play. Why, you ask? Well, because he's grown rich off of selling weapons to the highest bidder and plans to continue the Undershaft family tradition of skipping over its own heirs and leaving the business to a foundling. In Lady B's eyes, all of the above make him a profoundly immoral person.

Andrew ends up poking holes in his wife's notion of morality by the end of the story, though. He finds a lot of hypocrisy and contradictions in his family's notions of "right" and "wrong," and makes the case for why what he does is "right"…well, at least for him.

Questions About Morality

  1. What kind of "stance" does the play end up taking on the kind of traditional morality that his wife/children are advocating at the beginning of the play? Is it totally in tatters, or is there hope for it?
  2. Is Andrew's morality presented as totally legit by the end of the play, a replacement for the kind of morality that Lady B/the other family had pushed previously? Or is something else happening here?
  3. How has Barbara's morality changed throughout the course of the play? Has she sacrificed her principles? Or just arrived at better ones? Or something in between?

Chew on This

For all its talk about morality, the play doesn't end up being all that concerned with it—the message really is just that people shouldn't let arbitrary conceptions of right and wrong cloud their awareness of reality or the conditions that surround them.

The play ultimately shows Andrew Undershaft to be the most profoundly moral dude in the bunch, since he refuses to participate in a lot of the hypocrisies that more traditionally "moral" people buy into.

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