Conventional Family and Marriage as a Hindrance for Reformation

Shaw presented various attitudes on society and politics. Both the plays Arms and the Man and Man and Superman presented the idea on family, marriage and sex. As George Bernard Shaw has an anti-Victorian attitude towards marriage, he portrays conventional courtship in a satiric way in Man and Superman. The Victorian society had the voracious desire for sex but dreadfully frightened of even mentioning the subject. Even at that time, “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 70). Therefore, Shaw tried to write a play that would present romance, love and marriage in the stage but sex would be kept off from the stage.  He successfully intertwined all those ideas in the actions of the play. Therefore, John Tanner as a prototype of Don Juan in the play acts as the mouth-piece of Shaw (Besharati & Anoosheh 54).

Habitually the man is hunter and woman is hunted and submits to the man. On the contrary, the idea is different in the play Man and Superman, because in the play, the man is hunted by a relentless woman — woman is the pursuer, man is pursued. In this life-perpetuating-process she uses all her charms, all her cunning and all her abilities to ensure for her the most desirable male. As Tanner believes that woman is the embodiment of Life Force, he at last surrenders to Ann. He says “I love you. The Life Force enchants me. I have the whole world in my arms, when I clasp you” (Shaw Man 190). Shaw portrayed Ann Whitefield in such a manner that intended her husband with full of determination and sensitivity.

The plot of this play really consists of two storylines. The first is the engagement of John Tanner and Ann Whitefield. The second story is the story of Violet Robinson and Hector Melone. In the first story, as a progressive thinker, John Tanner is in conflict with all ideas associated with tradition or convention. When the action starts, audiences get the idea that he had been appointed co-guardian of Ann Whitefield, a duty he shares with an older man Roebuck Ramsden. Though Mr. Ramsden calls himself progressive, he believes in the conventional and established rules of society. Both Ramsden and Tanner appeal to their charge to select one of them to fulfill her father’s wishes, but she will not make a choice. With the pretense of respecting her father’s last wishes, she humbly says she would like both to remain in their joint capacity as guardian. In reality, she is simply setting her trap for Mr. Tanner (Board xiii).

Sociopolitical Worldview of George Bernard Shaw
1. Abstract
2. Introduction: Shaw as a reformer of social, political and theatrical conventions
3. War is the Coward’s Art
4. Socialism as a Way to Achieve Political and Economic Freedom
5. Futility of Romantic Love
6. Presentations of Upper Class Society
7. Conventional Family and Marriage as a Hindrance for Reformation
8. Life Force, the Core Relation between Man and Woman
9. Hope in Evolution, or the Replacement of Man by Superman
10. Conclusion: Shaw advertised his doctrines on the problems of modern society
11. Works Cited

The protagonist of the play is John Tanner. He is determinedly difficult revolutionary in his perspective, and disdainful of marriage and other social norms. He knows he is drawn magnetically to Ann Whitefield, but he is stubbornly repelled by the conventionality of Courtship and marriage, as well as by her control of the situation. He fights the inevitability of marriage valiantly, but in the end can do little more than half-heartedly accept his fate and marry the girl who has been pursuing him since childhood. So the main story of the play can be simply summarized as a chase of marriage.

Shaw’s attitude towards the main problems of modern society was very critical. No problem in the family and the state has exercised Shaw’s imagination so much as that of family. He is terrified is to notice the neglected condition of women in the family. As a biologist, he thinks the creation of a child to be the most sacred work of all, and as a socialist he demands that all work should be suitably remunerated. The most serious of social injustices is done to women who are underpaid in the industrial world and are not paid at all for their work in the family. (Gupta 19). By the institution of marriage a social system has been raised on a foundation of fraud, as women do not get any independent income for their work in the household.

In the 20th century, women were dependent on men for the maintenance of the family and for the rearing of their children. This dependency made them inclined to secure a man who would be a wealthy person and that person may be not gorgeous or healthy. But that unhealthy man can be capable of earning money, food or other security and other competent. But Tanner’s view is against these social traditions. This economical dependency destroys the nature’s purpose, as nature supports the process that a woman may reject one lover and accept another one who is biologically superior.

Shaw’s principal objection to marriage, however, is not that it is based on false economics but that it rests on false biology. Marriage is the institution which society has invented and adopted for the purpose of regularizing procreation. There are different forms of marriage in different societies, but there is one thing common to all these marriages: it means the alliance of two persons leads to the birth of children. As a marriage is intended to be a permanent institution, it has led to and been strengthened by another social institution which is even more lasting. This institution is the family which runs from generation to generation and covers innumerable marriages. Marriage and family are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the sexual instinct. The instinct of sex is the most violent, it is necessary, it is even sacred, for the Life Force expresses itself through it (Gupta 20-21).

The purpose of family and marriage is not the happiness of male or female, but it is the happiness of Nature. This vitality in women is a terrible force of Nature which no man will be able to resist. Reality shows that marriage is an arrangement to get the greatest number of children under close care of father and mother. This is what Life force expects out of marriage.  Sacred, honor, chastity and words like those, often found attached to marriage, are simply fancies and Life Force does not care for any of those. Don Juan, represented as Tanner, tells Ann in the Hell scene:

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. … That is the secret of its popularity. And a woman seeking a husband is the most unscrupulous of all the beasts of prey. The confusion of marriage with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other single error. (Shaw Man 133-134)

The family is created by marriage, and marriage depends on sex. The instinct of sex is irregular, while property, and the family are permanent. Property runs from generation to generation and the family name lingers even when there is no property to be handed over. Indeed, the prestige of a family depends often on the age of the family name. When marriages are contracted, every attempt is made to give them permanence. Marriage means a lifelong companionship for sexual enjoyment, for the rearing children, and for the joint employment of Property, even or joint struggle against poverty. But the problem of property presents the problem of equality. In The Revolutionist’s Handbook and Pocket Companion Tanner says:

Taking it, then, that Property and Marriage, by destroying Equality and thus hampering sexual selection with irrelevant conditions, are hostile to the evolution of the Superman, it is easy to understand why the only generally known modern experiment in breeding the human race took place in a community which discarded both institutions. (Shaw Man 207)

Marriage is based on a fundamental falsehood, and in order to protect it from its supporters, it has been idealized with Sentimentality, Decency and Respectability. These ideas are the weapons against the truth that ‘Decency is Indecency’s Conspiracy of silence’ (Shaw Man 249) because reality shows that marriage is against life’s eminence. People who have attained success in the material world persuade themselves and others that the institutions that have directly or indirectly helped them to eminence must be sacred. Dr. S. C. Sen Gupta tells about the topic,

Once having attained wealth and power, they become what are called the Have-and-Holders in society, and it is one of their duties stand by all that exists there. They become conservatives, not only in their politics but also in their sentiments. Having thriven in the world as it is, they have accepted conventional standard of right and wrong and are, therefore the most determined foes to original thinking. They do not judge the value of social institutions but cultivate a kind of morbid sentimentality for them for marriage, the family, the army the Church and other similar institutions. (Gupta 22)

According to Shaw, this combination of respectability and sentimentality has had disastrous effects on our civilization. It has impaired our strength by a culture of morbid sentiments, and it has tabooed the discovery and discussion of truth as indecent. There is nothing more real than sex, and yet in modern Society there is nothing more obscene, because a recognition of the truth about sex will be fatal to the institutions which respectable people hold dear. Sex is a matter of moments, but marriage is an organization for life. Respectable married people have therefore, always pretended that they have married not for sexual relationship, but also for love, romance, duty and all the other noble and beautiful things of life. These noble and beautiful things are very good as ideals, but they are untrue, because they have no connection with the primal instincts of man.

আরো পড়ুন:  Introduction and summary of the short story Cat in the Rain

A sudden shock of reality will make men feel how unsubstantial is the morality which is not based on the Life Force. Sentimentality and respectability have, indeed, come to play such an important part in life in modern times that very often they have to be completely divorced from real passion. Sergius feels genuine emotion for the servant girl Louka, but he has to carry on a heartless, romantic coquetry with the respectable Raina. Raina, in her turn, is attracted to her chocolate cream soldier, but she cannot admit it until it is known that he is the son of a rich hotel-keeper in Switzerland (Gupta 23). Shaw rejects the sentimentality through Ann in the play Man and Superman. Ann’s purpose in life is to be a mother, and she has to find out the most desirable mate for her. She rejects the sentimentally romantic Octavius and chooses the revolutionary Tanner of shocking behavior. 

Shaw’s objection to marriage is that by being associated with private property respectability and sentimentality, it has obscured the creative purpose of sex and that the Life Force has to confront many an obstacle supplied by out artificial civilization. First of all, the institution of marriage is connected with property, which diverts attention from creation to the acquisition of wealth. Then, as marriage denotes a permanent relationship, it has to depend more on sentimentality than on sex, and thus the creative purpose is once more sacrificed, this time to romance, which is as unsubstantial as property is immoral. Shaw’s chief argument against romance is that it is not essential to sex and that by trying to make sex romantic and respectable, it obscures the real creative purpose of life. Sex should be viewed as the fundamental instinct in life which ought to be satisfied, not because it is romantic and pleasurable, but because it is real and evolutionary (Gupta 23-24). As a presenter of Shaw’s ideas, Tanner resists marriage because he thinks that it will be a conditional contract of his surrender. In Act IV, Tanner expresses what he thinks about marriage:

Marriage is to me apostasy, profanation of the sanctuary of my soul, violation of my manhood, sale of my birthright, shameful surrender, ignominious capitulation, acceptance of defeat. … I shall see in the greasy eyes of all the other husbands their relief at the arrival of a new prisoner to share their ignominy. The young men will scorn me as one who has sold out: to the young women I, who have always been an enigma and a possibility, shall be merely somebody else’s property — and damaged goods at that: a secondhand man at best (Shaw Man 187).

After the marriage, Tanner’s free soul will be burdened with the things which he considers contemptuous to him and his soul will be hurt: besides, once he is married, he will not be able to make love to any women other than his wife as he will be regarded as her exclusive property. He also fears losing his freedom which he has cherished since his birth and submitting himself to the wishes of his wife. In short, he regards marriage as some sort of a shameful surrender to his wife and an acceptance of his defeat before a woman.

আরো পড়ুন:  রাষ্ট্রের বিরুদ্ধে একাকিনী লড়েছেন সফোক্লিসের নায়িকা এন্টিগনি

The institution of marriage, according to Shaw, should also be designed for the creation of superior species. Hence this Shavian idea has enjoined a wedding between two entities of uniformity superior intellect and intelligence. According to Shaw, marriage is the most indispensable institution. It is indispensable, particularly for the woman to fulfill her aim of breeding the superman. From the point of view of Sex, the women are a tool of Nature in the procreation process; and man is the tool of woman, for continuing the act of procreation. By instincts, she knows the male was created millions of years back in the process of evolution. In the Hell-scene of Man and Superman, Don Joan sets forth the purpose of a woman’s life and tells Ana:

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 Man 123-124).

But there is sex, and there is creation for which sex is meant. If a woman can produce better specimens of humanity than others, she will be allowed to specialize in producing and rearing babies in a controlled environment just like a Zoo by the year A.D. 3000. But she does not share any property with her children, nor is she forced to live a life of sentimental banalities in the company of their father or fathers (Gupta 23-24).

This attitude of Shaw on life and sex has led to severe criticism from the moralists who abolish him as an irreligious and obscene person. On the contrary he is also criticized by epicurean thinkers like Chesterton to be Puritan at heart. As a matter of fact, he is neither a sensualist not a Puritan, but a biologist. For a sensualist the aim of life is pleasure for its own sake, whereas for the Puritan repression is an end in itself or a necessary preparative for the attainment of heavenly bliss. Shaw is as much opposed to Puritanical repression as to pleasure being made the goal of life. For him tolerance is not a taboo, because it is a part of life’s experience, and experience, especially sex experience, is a necessary part of human growth, but he regards the substitution of sensuous ecstasy for intellectual activity as ‘the very devil’. His contempt of art for art’s sake is Puritanical, but he will not have the Puritans with him when he says that there can be no education except through art, nor will they approve of his treating life as a mere joke, even though he wants to make it a good joke (Gupta 24-25).

The printed play includes a dedication, in the form of a letter or epistle, addressed to Arthur Bingham Walkly, a drama critic and Shaw’s friend of fifteen years, who, according to the letter, had once asked Shaw why he did not write a Don Juan play. The dedication defends the play’s “preaching” tone, and sets out the premise of the play as “the natural attraction of the sexes,” (Shaw Man xli) to be distinguished from a play about love or marriage. The rest of the rather long and digressive letter explains that Don Juan is out and out philosophical, “gifted enough to be exceptionally capable of distinguishing between good and evil, follows his own instincts with regard to the common statute or canon law, and therefore, whilst gaining ardent sympathy of our rebellious instincts… finds himself in moral conflict with existing institutions” (Shaw Man xliii). Now therefore it is obvious that Jack Tanner is the Shavian Don Juan in Man and Superman.

John Tanner is indubitably a man of exceptional qualities and extraordinary characteristics. He clings persistently to unconventional values and ideas and he is seriously strident about traditional customs and institutions. He is strongly opposed to the existing institution of marriage and other such age-old codes of conduct, which have evolved and come down to us through the ages. Tanner’s anarchistic book The Revolutionist’s Handbook and Pocket Companion offends Ramsden, and Tanner finds Ramsden hopelessly obsolete. They both would like to marry Ann off to Octavius, who loves her, and be done with their obligation. They present their dilemma to Ann, but she charms them into accepting their partnership, for hersake, and retires upstairs to mourn her father. Octavius, or Tavy, or Ricky Ticky Tavy, as Ann calls him, is clearly smitten with her, somewhat to Tanner’s disgust. Tanner compares her attention to Octavius as like that of a lion or tiger with its prey. Octavius says he would consider such treatment “fulfillment.”

A meaningful story on marriage of the play is Violet’s pregnant episode. Ramsden informed Ann that Octavius’s sister, Violet, is pregnant by an unknown “scoundrel”. Octavius and Ramsden want to find him and force a marriage, but Tanner’s interest is in supporting Violet’s need to raise her child, since the male contribution to her condition is essentially over. Tanner acts according to the urge of his instinct, which he advocates to be the supreme guiding factor. His following pronouncement to Violet may serve as a fitting illustration here:

you were right to follow your instinct; that vitality and bravery are the greatest qualities a woman can have, and motherhood her solemn initiation into womanhood; and that the fact of your not being legally married matters not one scrap either to your own worth or to our real regard for you (Shaw Man 50).

The Shavian view as presented here is that woman’s interest in man is not as a lover which fanciful romantics like Octavious lauds, but as a helper in the process of procreation. Shaw’s views on marriage and the role of woman in nature’s plans, are brought out in the sub-plot which is concerned with this affairs. Tanner, as Shaw’s spokesman, tells them that Violet has done a great thing in turning from trivialities to fulfill “her highest purpose and greatest function — to increase, multiply and replenish the earth”. He rebukes them because “instead of admiring her courage and rejoicing in her instinct, instead of crowning the completed womanhood and raising the triumphal strain of unto us a child is born: unto us a son is given’, they are pulling long faces and looking as ashamed and disgraced as if the girl had committed the vilest of crimes” (Shaw Man 29-30). Tanner’s idea is that she should be respected and congratulated. Tanner was prompted by a revolutionary zeal which may be exemplified by The Revolutionary’s Handbook written by him. He has exposed the futility of our conventional sense of morality and ethics. He ran a tilt at the traditional ideas of marriage, sex, family and politics.

আরো পড়ুন:  নব্যধ্রুপদীবাদ শিল্প, সাহিত্য, থিয়েটার, সংগীত ও স্থাপত্যের সাংস্কৃতিক আন্দোলন

Man plays the bread-winners job. Physically he is more suited to fulfill that duty. While the female looks after the difficult duty of caring for the young ones, the male has the equally hard job of procuring the means of life including the luxuries of life. Don Juan says that “man’s duties and responsibilities begin and end with the task of getting bread for her children. To her, Man is only a means to the end of getting children and rearing them” (Shaw Man 123). In the epistle, Shaw says about man and women’s London life:

A life in which, as you know, the ordinary man’s main business is to get means to keep up the position and habits of a gentleman, and the ordinary woman’s business is to get married. In 9,999 cases out of 10,000, you can count on their doing nothing, whether noble or base, that conflicts with these ends; and that assurance is what you rely on as their religion, their morality, their principles, their patriotism, their reputation, their honor and so forth.

On the whole, this is a sensible and satisfactory foundation for society. Money means nourishment and marriage means children; and that men should put nourishment first and women children first is, broadly speaking, the law of Nature and not the dictate of personal ambition(Shaw Man xlix).

The relationship between a mother and a daughter has been concisely portrayed in the play. The contemporary society of those times was such that mothers indirectly enslaved their daughters. Tanner is revolutionist in this matter and he says the daughters are miserable because their character is influenced by their elderly mothers who are ignorant though experienced in life. They corrupt the minds of their daughters with their own cunning and greed. They are evil minded and cynical. Tanner argues that

A horrible procession of wretched girls, each in the claws of a cynical, cunning, avaricious, disillusioned, ignorantly experienced, foul-minded old woman whom she calls mother, and whose duty itis to corrupt her mind and sell her to the highest bidder. Why do these unhappy slaves marry anybody, however old and vile, sooner than not marry at all? Because marriage is their only means of escape from these decrepit fiends who hide their selfish ambitions, their jealous hatreds of the young rivals who have supplanted them, under the mask of maternal duty and family affection. Such things are abominable: the voice of nature proclaims for the daughter a father’s care and for the son a mother’s. The law for father and son and mother and daughter is not the law of love:it is the law of revolution, of emancipation,of final super session of the old and worn-out by the young and capable. I tell you, the first duty of manhood and womanhood is a Declaration of Independence: the man who pleads his father’s authority is no man: the woman who pleads her mother’s authority is unfit to bear citizens to a free people (Shaw Man 66).

Tanner is arguing that at that time in London, the duty of the mothers is to influence their daughters to make them marry old and evil people when it suits their own tastes. The girls agree to marry such people just to escape from these devilish mothers who hide their selfishness under the pretended maternal duty or regard for the family. Tanner opines that the duty of children is to free themselves from such influences. Tanner urges Ann to “Break your chains. Go your way according to your own conscience and not according to your mother’s. Get your mind clean and vigorous” (Shaw Man 67).

To Bernard Shaw, “Marriage remains practically inevitable; and the sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we shall set to work to make it decent and reasonable” (Shaw Getting Preface 2). His remedies rest on a preliminary diagnosis of family life; and he never fails to point out the finger to scorn at the rotten morality and the so called happiness of family life.Shaw believes that marriage does not provide for any long enduring happy companionship; and therefore, depicting the scarcity of conjugal bliss, he insists that no marriage is likely to be permanently happy. Marriage, according to Shaw, so far as it is a tricky knot, is utterly irrational. It is simply the Life Force that compels men and women to come together, and marriage, far from helping the matters. Shaw is not opposed to marriage as it is inevitable; but he does not want it to be left to the individual impulse. He aims at making marriage better by making it the reasonable contract it was meant to be and by stripping it of those illusions which make the married state so full of misery and disappointment. Marriage should be standardized and legalized but in a reasonable manner.

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