A study of George Bernard Shaw, the reformer



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The purpose of this study is to present George Bernard Shaw as an artist-philosopher who used his plays and prefaces as a means of dramatizing the weaknesses of the twentieth century. An attempt is made to show that he consistently tried to prod mankind into reform by holding up to ridicule the frauds and artificialities of the present day system Shaw's penetrating attacks on the current conditions and his suggestions for reform have been grouped under related heads so that the reader might get a composite summary of his philosophy. The conclusions reached in this thesis were derived from the plays -- the lines, the action, and the stage directions — and from the prefaces to the plays. Shaw's other material — novels, essays, political discourses — have not been used except as explanatory background for the ideas found in the plays. For these conclusions, thirty plays listed in the bibliography have been used. Other commentary on Shaw is referred to as a matter of interest or as support of an established point. Shaw's plays reveal him as a dramatist who was sincere in his effort to reform the maladjusted social order of the twentieth century. His message throughout his work was consistent. Shaw showed that in a system of Capitalistic society. a just distribution of wealth was impossible. He felt that no practice of political economy in the twentieth century could give nan the possibility of his full attainment. To him the present practice of democracy was a delusion. Communism could not be achieved since the forcing of men to work precluded its failure. A dictatorship was efficient but temporary — good only for the life of the dictator. Shaw advocated a Social-Democracy and made suggestions listed in the body of this thesis, for its accomplishment. Els final conclusion was that government was necessary and that any form could be good if the proletariat took responsibility for its success, and that no system would work without that responsibility. Shaw said that the practice of Christianity Lad been defeated by the Church. He did not believe in the present system of revenge and atonement, but in responsibility for one's "irrevocable acts." The virtue of humility he found less Christian than joyousness and courage to act. His God was no Jehovah, but an impersonal one who was experimenting with man toward a higher form of life. This process he called Life Force or Creative Evolution. Shaw thought that the Institutions under which r an conducted his dally life were stupid and immoral. He said that modern education inhibited learning. He did not approve of the institution of marriage, but thought that it was necessary until his suggested reforms might improve of medicine in the twentieth century was outrageous, and conditions. To him the present interpretation of law was stupid as well as immoral. Shaw found that the practice should be improved by a program of preventive medicine. In science, the current practice of experimentation, vivisection, and destruction encouraged morbid curiosity rather than knowledge. The soldiering of the British Empire promoted moral degeneration in the participants and In the nation. Shaw felt that journalism and the stage should be instruments for public enlightenment, forums for the discussions of public problems. To Shaw, any lip-service to the orthodoxies meant the reversal of honest goodness. Conventional goodness was not morality: passion, courage, responsibility, and optimism were the moving forces of the world. Comedy was a form of expression particularly adapted to Shaw's purpose and to his personality. As a master of that form Shaw ranked with Mollers and Mark Twain. The current problems of political and social conditions have already changed somewhat (thanks in part to Shaw's effort). However, the qualities and aspirations of his characters will probably be true for many generations. Since his wit and cleverness are superb, readers will continue to find much pleasure in his works.