Shaw’s Concept of Marriage in Man and Superman
Submitted to the Council of the College of
Language at Salahaddin
Danaz Abubaker Abdullah
Dr. Saman Salah Balaky
is a theme that can be interpreted in different ways. The definition of
marriage is the pillar to the formation of different kinds of small communities
known as family. For this reason, the concept of marriage should be looked upon
fondly otherwise it will be the cause of the fall of that family. So we can see
the tradition literally works about the theme of marriage. As it can be
imagined, through history, there are different viewpoints towards marriage. The
play is written in modernism because of its obvious characteristics in the play.
That in modernism everything changed and it was like the breaking rules of
tradition through the play Shaw effected by modernism and he gave the main role
to the woman in the concept of marriage.
Section one in this study presents Shaw’s
biography and his style of writing regarding to the “Shaw’s concept of marriage
in Man and Superman”. Section two introduces the origins of the play and
the reasons behind writing the play as well as the plot. While section three is
about the two movements: realism and naturalism, which had a significant
influence on the play. And the last section discusses Shaw’s view on the
concept of marriage in the play man and superman.
Shaw’s Biography and Style of Writing
George Bernard Shaw, was born in Dublin,
Ireland, in 1856 and he became one of the Britain’s greatest and most
controversial playwrights. The Irish dramatist was awarded with the Nobel Prize
in (Literature 1925). In 1884 He joined Fabian Society, a socialist group who
supported working class, tried to gain the equal rights for men and women, canceling
private ownership of productive land, and promoting healthy lifestyles. The
socialist Shaw was a man of many foundations such as, main changes in the
voting system, the simplification of spelling and the reform of the English
alphabet (he created a new phonetic alphabet “Shavian Alphabet”). He always
portrayed his situations frankly and honestly, intending to shock the audience
with a new view of society. He suddenly found himself acclaimed as a ‘Second
“I was always in the classic tradition,
recognizing that stage character’s must be endowed by the author with a
conscious self-knowledge …,a freedom from inhibitions, which in real life would
make them monsters of genius. It is the power to do this that differentiates me
(or Shakespeare) from a gramophone and camera.” (Keach.et al)
He went on to revolutionize the English
theater by concentrating his writing on various social issues. Within his
writing, Shaw clarifies the modern moral problems and presented them unexpectedly,
depending on irony to display his opinion (Holroyd).
Shaw’s writings were a Mixture of serious
topics and enjoyment. With combining philosophy and comedy he had built up a
large readership, especially in his 12th play Man and Superman that
subtitled with A Comedy and Philosophy (Holroyd). Discussing his practice as a
dramatist, he explained that the characters are more important than plot. As he
said “When I am writing a play I never invent a plot”. The focus on characters
and those ideas which are present in his plays separated him from most English
dramatists at the end of nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth
century. (Keach.et al)
Through Man and superman Shaw uses satire
but in a humor way to attract more readers and also to show the social problems
during the period. Because only comedy is not too much attractive and the
reader will not be aware of the problems which are hidden with this comedy.
However, philosophy is not a good subject to
attract the readers because of its complexity so he tries to mix these
two topics to deliver a special play. Shaw invented new and revolutionary views
about the concept of woman and marriage.
The Background of Man and
and superman is a comedy and philosophical drama which is written by George
Bernard Shaw in 1903. The play is four-act drama and it was written in response
to (Bingham Walkley) who asked Shaw to write a play based on the theme
of Don Juan. So Shaw at the beginning part of the play writes (Epistle Dedicatory
to author Bingham Walkley). Shaw regarded dramas in general to be something much deeper in
meaning, which is very obvious from the title which comes from Friedrich
Nietzsche’s philosophical ideas about the” Superman”. It is a powerful drama of
ideas; Shaw explores the role of the artist, the function of women in society,
and his theory of Creative Evolution. ‘which Weintraub, in new introduction of
his book states, this is “the first great twentieth-century English play”
and remains a classic expose of the eternal struggle between the sexes.’ (2000)
to Lewis, the play has been written in the form of dream which was inspired by Mozart’s Don Giovanni that four characters from comedy transferred
to philosophy and there’s a debate about nature of marriage in the third act.
The importance of the play that makes it unusual is the Act III (where the
dream appeared) and it was performed separately as one-act under the title of
Don Juan in Hell.
plot of Man and Superman is about a Shavian love. Which is about a pair
that the woman (Ann) who wants to marry a man( Tanner), despite his reputation
as a revolutionist (Shaw published the “revolutionist’s handbook” presumably it
was written by Tanner in the printed version of the play). Even though Tanner
was a superman status in the play but in the end Tanner accepts to get married
with Ann because of his submission to the “Life Force”. (2007)
Realism and naturalism in the play
play has been written in modernism, the term modernism is broadly used to categorize
new and unique features in the topics, forms, concepts, and style of literature
and the other arts during the nineteenth century (Abrams,2005) A fact that
nineteenth century, is a period almost too fertile in movements and schools (Cuddon,2013)
As far as modernism in literature is
considered as a breaking rules of tradition and also it is a reaction against
Victorian age and romanticism. The most influential terms that appeared in
modernism are Realism and Naturalism.
The recognizable and conscious movement in literature. Basically, Realism in literature
is the portrayal of life with truthfulness. Realism rejects classism ,
romanticism and the doctrine of art for art’s sake. The movement started in the
mid-nineteenth century in France (Cuddon,2013)
Realism represents the life as it really is, for example in drama; the
characters in the play are shown in a realistic picture and also evoking the
sense that they are exist in fact, The subject matters are always related to the
problems in social world, The Language and the places are important elements
because the language is an everyday speech and the place is mostly common place.
Man and Superman can strongly referred as a realistic play in a result
of that Shaw himself said that he wrote “a trumpery story of modern London
life, a life in which . . . the ordinary man’s main business is to get means to
keep up the position and habit of a gentleman and the ordinary woman’s business
is to get married.” (Lowers,1982)
Naturalism, the scientific movement began
in the mid-nineteenth century which was based on the theories of Darwin. It is
a method of literature that was developed by a school of writers in accordance
with a specific philosophical theory. Naturalists believed that the nature is
the source of everything and controls human beings. The two significant
principles of naturalism are; heredity and environment, the first one is
inheriting compulsive instincts from parents but, the second one is about the
environment and the situation that the person born with the social and economic
forces. Sometimes Naturalism gives an even more accurate description of life
than realism. (Abrams,2005) Regards to man and superman naturalism has
an important effect on the play because of the “Life Force” that obliges Tanner
to accept the marriage although Tanner was against marriage.
The concept of marriage
the nineteenth century, the concept of marriage no longer concludes a story
either happily or tragically. As specified by Johnson “It
(marriage) may be an institution to be analyzed, questioned, perhaps redefined,
and an idea that has deep social as well as symbolic implications”(1975:
38). Johnson’s idea was like a base for
the concept of investigating Shaw’s view about the concept of marriage in the
play man and superman. Shaw has made his best to develop his idea about
marriage in different plays especially though one of his famous and powerful
play, man and superman which is a four-act play that is written in 1903.
(Besharati, Anosheh, 2017)
Certainly, Shaw has written the play as a reaction against Victorian
society which was too excited for sex desires but they were too scared to even
utter the word (sex). “At that time (Victorian period), the average
middle-class English man was a sort of prurient Puritan, too timid even to
pronounce the word sex, yet entranced by the topic (Carpenter, 1975: 70)”.
Shaw attempted to bring the idea into the play by writing a play in which sex
is cautiously kept off stage while it was the motive behind of all the actions.
This aim is completely fulfilled in man and superman therefore John
Tanner is a model of Don Juan in the play and acts as a mouthpiece of Shaw. Through
preceding the play Tanner’s dialogue about the concept of marriage with Ann
shows that Tanner is the mouthpiece of Shaw, himself in man and superman
(Besharati, Anosheh, 2017).
“Let us face the facts dear Ana, the Life
force respects marriage only because marriage is a contrivance of its own to
secure – The greatest number of children and the closest care of them. For
honor, chastity and all the rest of your moral figments if cares not rap.
Marriage is the most licentious of human institutions” (Shaw, 1962: 156).
Shaw’s belief about the concept of marriage is expressed through John
Tanner in act 1-2 and 4 but in the 3rd act which is mostly
recognized as Shaw’s mouthpiece that is expressed through philosophical Don
Shaw was not against the indication of marriage but he was against its
current laws. The importance of marriage in Shaw’s view is the continuation and
the progressing of the human race. As it’s seen in the play man and
superman, the plot of the play is about Ann Whitefield and John Tanner as
Ann attempted to provide the father for a superman. According to the play Shaw
explains that the woman is always seeking for a man who would demonstrate to be
a good husband by giving her children. The main reason behind the marriage in man
and superman is life force which obliges her to get married and bring a
superior mankind into the world. It is obvious through Tanner’s speech in act
II; (Besharati, Anosheh, 2017).
“It is a woman’s business to get
married as soon as possible, and a man’s to keep unmarried as long as he can.” (shaw,1903)
“Marriage remains practically inevitable
and the sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we shall set to work to make it
decent and reasonable” (Shaw, 1962: 454).
With the play Shaw analyses the marriage with its different
perspectives, beside the idea of marriage, he discussed sexuality, the role and
freedom of woman. Also Shaw tried to show the concept of marriage as a useful
and healthy process, it is necessary especially for woman to choose the mate
for giving the birth of superman so the woman in the play regarded as the hunter.
In the 3rd act of the play there is a speech by Don Juan to Ana in
the Hell-scene which declares woman’s wish to the evolution process; (Besharati,
“Sexually, woman is nature’s contrivance for
perpetuating its highest achievement.
Sexually Man is
Woman’s contrivance for fulfilling nature’s behest in the most economical way, she knows by instinct
that for back in the evolutional process she invented him, differentiated him,
created him in order to produce something better than the single sexed process
can produce (Shaw, 1962, 147).
In the role of woman, Man and
superman was regarded as a new type of drama which presented a new form of
women in the society. Shaw had another definition of women in his plays as
confident and self-controllable which was uncommon in that time and they
decided to reach whatever they wanted. Shaw attempted to show women in a
realistic way with having some heroic qualities. (Besharati, Anosheh, 2017)
Shaw indicated if it possible to avoid life force, then marriage should
be sacrificed “‘if marriage cannot be made to produce something better than we
are, marriage will have to go, or else the nation will have to go”. It is
the life force that obliges woman to better the race by giving birth to
superman. Life force expresses itself through sex so it is life force that
throws the two different pairs in to one fate which is called “marriage”. The theme of life force is most importantly
discussed in the play, such as Don Juan expresses the importance of it:
“In the sex relation the universal
creative energy, of which the parties are both the helpless agents, our rides
and sweeps away all personal consideration, and dispenses with all personal
consideration, and dispenses with all personal relations. The pair may be utter
strangers to one another, speaking different languages, differing in race and
color, in age, and disposition, with no bond between them but a possibility of
that fecundity for the sake of which the Life Force throws them into one
another’s arms at the exchange of a glance” (Besharati, Anosheh, 2017)
As well as there are two opposite kinds of marriage in the play Man
and superman, the first one is the marriage of Ann Whitefield and John
Tanner, the second one Violet Robinson and Hector Malone.
The first marriage is not because of love between the pair but it
happened under the force of “Life Force”. It’s about an unstoppable woman that
wanted to hunt a man to be the father of superman which was really rare in that
time for the society. Through this situation Shaw attempted to introduce a new
kind of woman to the community with the concept of marriage. Through this play
Shaw wanted to reveal the real reasons behind getting married.
The second type of marriage is between Violet Robinson and Hector Malone
which happened through love despite the fact that there was a rejection of
different classes but they still insisted on getting married to each other due
to the presence of love. Although Shaw wanted to introduce a new type of woman
to the society, I think that Shaw, through the second type of marriage wanted
to show the audience that true love always exists. But this kind of marriage
has always existed in the tradition forms of drama.
Shaw was the dramatist of man and superman. Through his play,
Shaw represents the role of the woman as the hunter to capture the father of
the superman as it’s clear in act II of the play that Ana says ” A father for
superman” (Shaw, 1962; 155).
In this drama Shaw tried to express women as the only gateway to give
birth to superman, that is why he gave the role of the hunter to a woman to
find the other mate so we can say that this kind of woman is not ordinary kind
of woman. While superman is seen as an evolution process for man. We can also
say that Ann was a superwoman because she never gave up on trying to find the
right mate for father of superman until she persuaded Tanner to marry her. It’s
a unique play because the role of the woman was more superior than the role of
the man as Shaw gave the role of the hunter to a woman in the concept of
As a student of master’s degree, I think that all these great roles
given to the women in the play relates back to his viewpoint as a member of
Fabian Socialist, he supported the idea of equal rights between men and women
so he gave the role of the hunter to the woman.
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