Shaw as a Moralist / Propagandist
He firmly Bernard Shaw was a moralist first and a dramatist afterwards. He firmly believed that the lot of human beings can be bettered if they bid farewell to their prejudices, their false idealism and their sentimental outpourings. He had great reforming zeal which was more effective because he was a realist and not a mere dreamer and had wit and humour. He did not approve the art that was not controlled by morality. With him it was ‘art of life’s sake’ and not ‘art for art’s sake’ He said, ‘For art’s (sake) alone I would not face the toil of writing a single sentence?
Shaw employed wit, humour, ridicule and laughter to preach his ideas so much that he is very much misunderstood and considered a clown. But he was not deterred and bravely and carefully went on to teach what he believed to be good and true.
He says, “My method is to take utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it say it with utmost levity. And all the time the real joke is that I am in earnest “Shaw began to befool the people by his ingenious attack on the traditional and conventional beliefs and convictions. He touched all possible aspects of life-social, political, economic, industrial, religious and educational as well as problems of marriage and married life. He used delicate irony, brilliant wit, sarcasm and paradox in preaching his ideas. He touches the fundamentals and goes to the very root of the problem and does not hesitate in condemning the recognized and traditional institutions.
In Arms and the Man Shaw comes out as the perfect moralist. He attacks the conventional notion of war, bravery and love along with some other social prejudices. He does not merely criticize accepted notions: he shows their hollowness by contrast. While criticizing old beliefs he puts forward the opposite side so that it appears better and truer. He points out that cartridges are no good in battle and supports his statement by showing how possession of mere cartridges with no intelligence only goads a man on to suicidal acts. It was just a chance that Sergius and his men were saved. On the other hand Bluntschli who cares only for gurb proves the better soldier. “All soldiers are afraid to die’ he says and we see that he is afraid to die and does his best to save himself. He is a firm he is a perfect soldier. He will fight like a demon to save himself from being taken to the streets for amusement. His statements are something proved by the actions of others too. He remarks: “Nine soldiers out of ten are born fools” And we come across a typical soldier – a born fool- the very next moment. The Russian officer not only fails to find Bluntschli who is in the room but also misses to see his revolver lying on the ottoman. The stupidity of the Russian officer is made more marked and obvious by the fact that the maid servant, Louka easily spots both revolver and the fugitive.
To make his views more pointed and effective Shaw gives them the universal touch by putting them various mouths. He does not favour Bluntschli with all the remarks about soldiers and war. The hero of the victory at Slivnitza and of Raina and her mother. Sergius makes a couple of revolting remarks about soldiers and their art. He says, “Soldiering my dear madam, is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak.” This hero says that his heart “jumped like a woman’s at the first shot” About the bravery of soldiers he acts almost as the mouthpiece of Shaw when he says, “the courage to rage and kill is cheap” Soldiers most eulogised obedience without questioning ‘why’ is compared by him to the fidelity of a bull-terrier. And how true is his remark about real bravery “Give me the man who will defy to the death any power on earth or in heaven that sets itself up against his own will and conscience: he alone is the brave man.”
Another target for Shaw is the romantic notion of ideal love. It cannot last for any length of time and is wearisome. Both the votaries of higher love, Raina and Sergius feel bored with it. Sergius tells Louka that higher love is “very fatiguing to keep for any length of time…One feels the need of some relief after it.” And when Bluntschli tells Raina that he found it impossible to believe a single word from her when she struck that noble attitude and spoke in that thrilling voice, she grows familiar at once and asks; “How did you find me out?” Shaw has several notions about love. It is matter of fact and not something ideally romantic. A person with romantic qualities may be worshipped and adored but only he who presents sense and blunt deserves to be loved. Loved should not know the bar of status. Sergius marries a maid servant and Bluntschli puts the bar of status. Sergius marries a maid servant and Bluntschli puts the seal of acceptance over his choice by kissing her hand in good wishes.
Besides the two dominant themes of war and love, Shaw has a fling at certain other points of social conduct too. He satirizes the vanity of the Petkoffs as also Catherne’s hypocrisy. Louka poses to Sergius the question: “Did you find in the charge that the men whose fathers are poor like mine were any less brave than the men who are rich like you” Then there is Sergius whom Shaw gives some correct statements, though we cannot accept them in general. He says that war is fraud, a sham, like love; and life is a farce.
All these instances are proof enough that Shaw was a. moralist; he moralized in his plays through the various characters who, on occasions acted as his mouthpiece. Wherever a character falls into moralizing we feel that it is Shaw’ speaking. This lends its own peculiar charm to his plays.
English Literature— Important links
- Major Works of George Bernard Shaw
- B. Shaw’s Theory of Life-Force
- Life History of G. B. Shaw (Biography)
- Shaw as an Artist and Socialist
- “Arms and the Man” (ACT-I) Summary
- Arms and the Man (Act-2) Summary
- Arms and the Man (Act- 3) Summary
- Arms and The Man (Act-1)- Explanation & Analysis
- B. Shaw’s place in Literature
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