Shaw as an Artist and Socialist in “Arms and the Man”
“It is by the jingling bell of the jester that I have made people listen to me. All genuinely intellectual work is humorous” —Shaw
Shaw appeared to be always happy, but his laughter was to hide his sufferings. He took everything in a light mood, so as to lessen his pain. This tendency to treat everything comically, he inherited from his father, who had a great sense of humour. In this way his father was able to bear his losses bravely. Sometimes he was misunderstood by his friends as unfeeling because he could laugh even in the saddest situation.
Shaw as a Satirist
Satire is some writing which makes fun of a particular individual or group. It is the expression of the amusement or distaste aroused by some foolish or improper description but the humour should be clearly seen in it. Thus the main requirements of satire are humour, literary form of expression, desire to change and enlarging reality. A good satirist criticises for the purpose of removing certain evils in the society or in a person through laughter and by magnifying reality. A satirist is often bitter, sharp and even rough.
Shaw’s purpose in life was social reform. He used the medium of his plays to speak against all the evil traditions and institutions. Shaw is a comic genius but his comedy has serious and philosophic thoughts behind it. There is a big element of satire in the comedy of Shaw. He was against the conventional morality and all the social institutions, and all his fun is directed at these. He wants to change all the old ways and form a new social conduct which will support the work of the life force. He has used irony and sarcasm to reveal the actual picture of the outdated customs. He used humour and satire because it allows people to tolerate facts without feeling hurt.
Satire in his Plays
Shaw is more a social reformer than a satirist. He is not in the same category of satirist as pope and Dryden because they were simple and compete satirists. Through his plays Shaw has exposed the reality of old social institutions, codes and beliefs and shown their hollowness. His method is simple. He first exaggerates their faults and in this manner laughs at them and then in end completely pulls down old idols. He did not deal with only one or two evils but opposed a number of them. He attacked the institution of love, sex and family, war, marriage, democracy dictatorship and ideals of morality and religion. He attacked all the prevailing morals and beliefs and challenged them. His play Widowers’ Houses is a satire on slum landlordism. The Philanderer is a satire on the institutions of marriage and love. Mrs. Warren’s Profession is a play dealing with the problem of prostitution. Arms and the Man is an anti-romantic comedy idealism- the wrong and false notions about politics and war. In Candida, once again the institution of marriage and love comes under attack. In Man and Superman conventional respectability and the romantic adoration of woman have been ridiculed. In Major Barbara Shaw attacks poverty. The Doctor’s Dilemma exposes the hollowness of the medical profession. In Fanny’s First Play the critics, in Heartbreak House European materialism, and in Saint Joan the state, the Church and the society who want to suppress the truth, have been satirised. In The Apple Cart, he has satirised the institution of democracy in its present form.
Capitalism, slum-landlordism, prostitution, poverty and corruption were the evils present society. Shaw’s cure for all these evils is Socialism. Socialism for him meant equality of income for everyone disregarding character, qualities, age or sex. Thus his socialism is mainly related to distribution of wealth. This was his basic principal.
Shaw as a Socialist
Shaw was a great social reformer. In 1928, he produced The Intelligent Women’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism which is considered the clearest guide to socialist theory. His socialism also influenced his plays greatly. Many of his plays deal with social problems. Karl Marx’s Das Capital changed his outlook. He realised that capitalism is the main cause of all evils in society.
He calls capitalism a disease. All his life he made propaganda against it and all the greedy and selfish people. The church, school, press and the courts of law all have been corrupted by them. Through their wealth they busy votes and capture all the seats in the Parliament. In a society controlled by capitalists only the poor suffer, in the name of law of justice as well as of religion. Capitalism defeats every form of Government except that of corrupt people. The Apple Cart exposes the way in which both democracy and royalty are helpless in capitalist economy.
The private property which is the basis of capitalism also gives rise to a number of evils. The municipalities are prevented discharging their duties by capitalists. In Widower’s Houses, the Sanitary Inspector is helpless in the grip of Sartorius a vestryman, as Lysistrata in The Apple Cart is in the grip of Breakages Ltd. In Widower’s Houses Shaw raised the problem of slum- landlordism too.
Shaw also considers capitalistic civilization responsible for disease, illness and premature deaths. It is so because there are bad sanitation, slums, malnutrition and unemployment which cause diseases.
Shaw also hated poverty which he has discussed in detail in his play, Major Barbara. He believed that many are poor because a few are rich. Andrew Undershaft, one of Shaw’s characters express Shaw’s ideas that poverty is the greatest of evils and the worst of crimes.
Thus Shaw’s socialist ideas greatly influenced his plays. Without his socialism there would have been no Shaw and no Shavian plays. He favoured equality in distribution of wealth.
As a satirist almost every aspect of society has been criticised and satirised by Shaw. He does not express his ideas bitterly but in a light manner. He is never personal in his attacks on institution. Thus just as a sugar- coated pill is not disliked, Shaw’s satires do not hurt the readers, though they are effective.
English Literature— Important links
- Major Works of George Bernard Shaw
- B. Shaw’s Theory of Life-Force
- Walt Whitman as a Poet (Essay) and his Works
- O Captain! My Captain!- Critical Appreciation
- Rabindranath Tagore as a Poet of Nature
- Background, Casually (by Nissim Ezekiel)- Introduction & Summary
- Keats as a Writer of Odes- Characteristics & Structure of his Ode
- “The Flute player of Brindaban”- Summary, Analysis & Explanation
- “Ode To a Nightingale” By John Keats- Stanza wise Summary
- Ode to a Nightingale- Stanza-wise Explanation & Analysis
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