SHAW’S CONCEPT OF NEW WOMAN

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Shaw in his preface to “Major Barbra” writes: “I violate the romantic convention that all women are angles when they are not devils; they are better looking than man; their part in courtship is entirely passive, and human female form is the most beautiful object in nature.” Shaw broke all the conventions and attacked the ideals and practices of Victorian drama from the very beginning. He substituted the lady like gentle, charitable and delicate heroine of Victorian drama with the woman of sterner stuff striving for independence. Shaw honoured woman in his personal life, that is why the dramatic world Shaw created has a larger place for woman. He belives that women are not only to be loved, they should also be respected and honoured and even feared. He always tends to intellectualize sexual relations. According to him it is necessary to be involved with a woman to enable her to give birth to a lovable child. It is also important to note that in Shavian drama, it is usually the intended husband with such continuity and subtlety that they read the men, sooner or later, to think themselves the pursuers. Where as, in fact they are marked down victims. Not, however victims of women as a sex none of any individual woman but of some super natural agency—“The life of force” which uses the woman as its chief instrument and man as the means through which women carry out the motive of the life of force which is nothing else than the evolution of man into superman. The variety of Shaw’s women characters is astonishing, all implied by one passion or the other. From Blake in “Widower’s Houses” and Julia in “ The Philanderer” to Ominthia in “Apple cart”—there are countless examples of the passion of love but as different from each other as women could be. A mother woman of Shaw shows the passion of conscience for work, for a cause, or for God. Vinnie in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”, “ Major Barbra”, Lina in “Misalliance” Lawinia in “ Saint Joan” and Lysistrata in “ Apple cart”, all represent a passion, but for a particular cause and in ways different from one another. Joan contains merely all the favourite qualities of Shaw which he wants to see in a modern women, bisexuality, soldier ship, occult power, saintliness, common sense, efficiency. He believed that women are central powers and men’s prided intellect seems often childish in comparison and that “All good women” are manly and all good men are womanly and “ Genius” is post feminine and a poet naturally has the temperament of an old maid. In this regard Eric Bentley rightly remarks: “Of all the reversals in Shavian drama this is inevitably the most famous reversal in the roles of the sexes. In his comedies, most often the woman is active and the man is passive.” We can’t deny the fact that Shaw was reflecting his own complexes concerning women, when writing about them as well as carrying out his aim of pulling up the absolute new woman on the stage. As in his play “The Apple cart” Ominthia is a political leader with same spirit we find in Major Barbra. She is the leader with all qualities which are the part of man. Shaw has portrayed her character with manly confidence and courage. It was realistic to demand justice and equality for women but to show them superior to men was too much. Shaw was attracted by the idea of all powerful women for intellectuals and subjective reasons. In Barbra we see that Undershaft’s marriage has justified itself as an evolutionary experiment in the crossing of types and classes for Barbra has lady Britomart’s genius for leadership and moderating with none of her class limitations. So little is she concerned with mere propriety and decorum and so intensely does she identify herself with religious spirit of the race that she has joined the least snobbish of the reforming religious sects of the day, the Salvation Army. Shaw’s obsession that women embody the vitality of the race is aired in this play too. Lady Britomart is the type of woman, who after having divorced by her husband is struggling for the existence without being tired or unhappy. The same vitality we find in her daughter Major Barbra who does not nourish the idea of missing her father but acts as guide to her younger sister and brother. It is funny that she even tries to dominate her father and offers him to join the Salvation Army. “Take care, it may end in your giving up the cannons for the sake of the Salvation Army.” We find in this woman a new spirit of the modern age. She talks to men without any hesitation and discusses business matters openly as men do , for example, with Peter she is friendly but brisk and business like. 1

“Sit down! Make yourself at home. Now then! Names, and addresses and Trades.” When dressed in the uniform of Salvation Army, she is robust, jolly and energetic just like a traditional man. At one time Undershaft remarks, “I am a millionaire, you are a poet; Barbra is a saviour of souls. What have we three to do with the common mob of slaves and idolaters.” Barbra like her father holds the revolutionary ideas, for example, the human race cannot be divided into good man and scoundrels. Alfred Truce in his book “Shaw’s moral vision” writes that: “Like it forerunners, Major Barbra employs a symbolism opposing heaven and hell, salvation and damnation; the representative of spiritual aspiration(is a member of Salvation Army).” So we can say that Shaw’s concept of new woman is clear that he wants to make her hold enough to face the adverse circumstances. His keen desire is that woman should work with men. So, in the light of Shaw’s plays we can conclude that dominant woman attracts Shaw. Here in “Major Barbra” we find a beautiful blend of manly and womanly qualities. Shaw tried to inculcate the new spirit of modern society in the women. He sees a fantastic new energy in the modern woman. This admiration of woman also reminds us of Shaw’s own private life. In short we can say that she has all the qualities of soldier ship, occult power, saintliness, common sense, efficiency in her and this attitude is positive and healthy.

Written&Composed By: Prof.A.R. Somroo M.A. English&Education. 0662610063 Cell: 03339971417 Khangarh.

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