Study Guide

Major Barbara Power

By George Bernard Shaw

Power

The whole idea that the meek will inherit the earth is not part of Andrew Undershaft's philosophy—he's all about power and the things that get it for you (like money and weapons). Hey, there's a reason that people thought Shaw was influenced by Nietzsche, right?

Undershaft makes no apologies for wanting power, as it prevents others from having to take care of him. He's not the only character who likes power and desires control either—Barbara is also a force to be reckoned with, and you could argue that she manages to hold on to her convictions despite heavy assault from her father (although she does end up revising them a bit). And of course, Lady B relishes being in control, though she loses a lot of power in the end . . .

Anyway, TL;DR: the characters are super interested in power in all of its forms and how to maintain it.

Questions About Power

  1. Who are the most powerful characters in the play? Do Barbara and Lady B remain commanding figures all the way through the end, or do they give up some of their power? How do we know?
  2. Andrew warns Dolly not to take over the Undershaft business if he's looking for power—but hasn't Andrew been emphasizing how much power he has (and how great that is) throughout the whole play? What do you think is going on with this apparent contradiction?
  3. At the end of the day, can everyone pursue the kind of power that Andrew/Dolly advocate? Or is someone always left powerless? How do we know?

Chew on This

Barbara starts out being a powerful figure, but ultimately her father and his philosophies completely overshadow her and her religion, leaving her with entirely revised principles and acting like a virtual baby at the end of the play.

Barbara shrewdly treats her father's philosophies and religion as a kind of à la carte deal, taking what she likes and using it to further her aims. Although her father enables it—that much is true—you can't deny that she is still pursuing exactly the same aims and holds the same religious ideas that she had at the beginning . . . now she just has a better way to execute them.

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