Major Barbara: Act 1 Part 3
Act I: Part Three
The four enter the room and are described in the stage directions. Sarah is ‘slender, bored and mundane’, whereas Barbara is ‘robuster, jollier, much more energetic’. Sarah is dressed fashionably and Barbara is in her uniform; Lomax is ‘frivolous’ and Cusins is ‘a spectacled student’. The latter (who Barbara refers to as Dolly) is bent on marrying Barbara; Lomax (who is also referred to as Cholly) likes Sarah and thinks it will be ‘a lark’ to marry her.
Lady Britomart tells them to sit down and informs Sarah and Barbara that their father is coming and hopes Barbara will not object. Barbara says she would not as he has a soul to be saved like anybody else and is welcome. She then sits on the table and whistles ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ softly.
Their father has not seen the children since they were babies and on his entrance, after speaking to Lady Britomart, he mistakes Lomax for his son. It transpires he thinks these are all his children. He says he only remembers one son, ‘but so many things have happened since ....’ When he is introduced to Stephen, he says he is happy to make Mr Stephen’s acquaintance and goes on to presume Cusins is his son. Cusins corrects him and explains who everybody is. Undershaft says he is embarrassed and does not know which part to play: father or stranger. Lady Britomart tells him it would be better if he were sincere and natural.
In the following awkward silence, Lomax laughs and Barbara defends him from her mother. Lady Britomart responds by telling her not talk like a street girl and Undershaft says to not mind as he is not a gentleman and was never educated.
The conversation turns to Barbara’s involvement in the Salvation Army and she encourages her father to come down to the shelter at West Ham to see what they are doing and to march with them. She asks if he can play an instrument and he tells her he used to play the trombone. Lomax is scandalized and brings up the subject of the cannon business and says, ‘getting into heaven is not exactly in your line, is it?’ Undershaft tells them he is not ashamed of his position and argues that he does not pay ‘conscience money’ as his rivals do and adds that ‘my morality – my religion – must have a place for cannons and torpedoes in it’.
Barbara argues that there are neither good men nor scoundrels as ‘there are just the children of one Father’. Undershaft asks if she has ever saved a maker of cannons. She says no, but asks if she may try. He makes a bargain with her and says that he will come to the shelter tomorrow, if she will come to the cannon works the following day. They shake hands on the agreement and she tells him where the shelter is in West Ham, at the sign of the cross, and says anyone in Canning Town knows of it. He explains the cannon works are in Perivale St Andrews, at the sign of the sword, and to ask ‘anybody in Europe’ for its whereabouts.
When Lady Britomart insists on having formal prayers, Undershaft says he must be going. She tells him this would be improper and so he asks for a compromise. He will attend a service conducted by Barbara and with Mr Lomax playing the organ. He will even take part if a trombone can be procured. Lady Britomart accuses him of mocking her, but Barbara is not fazed. She sweeps her father out and asks Lomax and Cusins to come too. After talking to Lady Britomart, these others follow and she is offended and tells Sarah she may leave too. Left with Stephen, Lady Britomart bemoans the lot of mothers who raise children who go on to leave them for their father. Stephen says it is only curiosity, but she will not be consoled. She gets up to go to the drawing room and ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ can be heard on the concertina and tambourine. She asks Stephen if he is coming, but he refuses.
This final section of Act I is concerned with the interaction between Undershaft and his newly-discovered children. Comedy arises from his initial confusion as to which ones are his to the point of being farcical. The tone shifts dramatically, however, when Undershaft demonstrates a lack of hypocrisy as a fully-fledged capitalist. His refusal to pay ‘conscience’ money, as other arms traders have, highlights an interest in unpalatable truths. Although the play is critical of capitalism, particularly as embodied in the arms trade, it also tends to favor Undershaft’s honesty over the hypocrisy of Lady Britomart and, in the next Acts, the Salvation Army.