Major Barbara: Top Ten Quotes
- It is only in the middle classes, Stephen, that people get into a state of dumb helpless horror when they find that there are wicked people in the world. In our class, we have to decide what is to be done with wicked people; and nothing should disturb our self-possession.
Act I p. 56.
At this point, Lady Britomart explains to her son the necessity of behaving according to their class. Because irony is used, the class hierarchy is questioned with these words of an aristocrat.
- There may have been some reason for it when the Undershafts could only marry women in their own class, whose sons were not fit to govern great estates. But there could be no excuse for passing over my son.
Act I p. 58
Lady Britomart is used once more to condemn herself and the class she represents with her outrageous snobbery.
- All the spare money my trade rivals spend on hospitals, cathedrals, and other receptacles for conscience money, I devote to experiments and researches in improved methods of destroying life and property. I have always done so; and I always shall.
Act I p. 70-71
Andrew Undershaft voices his personal morality in this reference. Although this claimed lack of charity proves to be untrue, this is a useful example of his lack of hypocrisy.
- A woman has to bring up her children; and that means to restrain them, to deny them things they want, to set them tasks, to punish them when they do wrong, to do all the unpleasant things. And then the father, who has nothing to do but pet them and spoil them, comes in when all her work is done and steals their affection from her.
Act I p. 74
Although this statement by Lady Britomart is ironic in tone, as she barely conforms to the role she claims to have had, it is an insightful example of the play attempting to challenge patriarchal thinking.
- Them Salvation lasses is dear good girls; but the better you are, the worse they likes to think you were before they rescued you. Why shouldn’t they av a bit of credit, poor loves? They’re worn to rags by their work. And where would they get the money to rescue us if we was to let on we’re not worse than other people? You know what ladies and gentlemen are.
Act II p.77
The respectable Mrs Rummy Mitchens explains here, to the audience and Snobby Price, why she claims to be a fallen woman. Her false confession (and Price’s) are central criticisms of the Salvation Army’s modus operandi, which the play highlights as being dependent on salacious confessions and donations from ruinous capitalists such as whisky distillers.
- This love of the common people may please an earl’s granddaughter and a university professor; but I have been a common man and a poor man; and it has no romance for me. Leave it to the poor to pretend that poverty is a blessing.
Act II p. 97
Undershaft’s speech questions the romanticizing of poverty, which prevails in aspects of socialism and Christianity. It is ironic that this manufacturer of arms is the most insightful of the central characters as he refuses to be swayed by hypocrisy.
- Oh Snobby, if you had given your poor mother just one more kick, we should have got the whole five shillings!
Act II p. 99
Barbara’s desire for money for the Salvation Army is seen at this point, which is prior to her resignation, to override her moral concerns.
- He is one of the greatest of our public benefactors. He restored the cathedral at Hakington. They made him a baronet for that. He gave half a million to the funds of his party: they made him a baron for that.
Act II p. 106
This quotation refers to Sir Horace Bodger, the distiller of whisky. The acceptance and acclaim given for his supposed charitable acts demonstrate the hypocrisy of the establishment (and the Salvation Army which also accepts his money).
- Food, clothing, firing, rent, taxes, respectability and children. Nothing can lift those seven millstones from Man’s neck but money; and the spirit cannot soar until the millstones are lifted.
Act III p. 141
Undershaft argues here how he has saved his workers’ and children’s souls from the seven deadly sins, which he lists as food, clothing, firing, rent, taxes, respectability and children. He goes on to argue that poverty is the worst of crimes as it ‘strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it’.
- Turning our backs on Bodger and Undershaft is turning our backs on life.
Act III p.151
The play ends with Barbara thinking that there is no escaping the influence of her father, Bodger and other fellow capitalists.