The play Man and Superman expounds Shaw’s pointed view of humanity’s sexual nature. In this play, Ann Whitefield pursues her newly appointed guardian, John Tanner, and he in spite of his anti-romantic persona, falls for her. He does not love her in the conventional sense, but falls prey to the “Life Force” that she conveys. It is more a matter of sexual attraction than it is of romantic love. Shaw’s idea of this Life Force derives from French philosopher Henri Bergson’s (1859 – 1941) elan vital, or spirit of life.
Bergson’s had the idea that intellect was an advanced form of instinct, and that intellect and instinct combined to form the source of vitality shared between all creatures and God. The conventions of marriage and courting are superficial phenomena that merely mask the underlying drive toward life and procreation. According to Bergson, the intellect of man has drastically evolved for the sake of survival. To him, elan vital is immaterial force that shapes all life but yet is not scientifically explainable (Jang 4). Ann concentrates all her energies for the purpose of perpetuating the existence and preserving the same. Shaw’s attitude and his philosophy of the eternal conflict between man and woman have been manifestly revealed in the following dialogue between Tanner and Octavius:
TANNER. Tavy; that’s the devilish side of a woman’s fascination: she makes you will your own destruction.
OCTAVIUS. But it’s not destruction: it’s fulfilment.
TANNER. Yes, of her purpose; and that purpose is neither her happiness nor yours, but Nature’s. Vitality in a woman is a blind fury of creation. She sacrifices herself to it: do you think she will hesitate to sacrifice you?
OCTAVIUS. Why, it is just because she is self-sacrificing that she will not sacrifice those she loves.
TANNER. That is the profoundest of mistakes, Tavy. It is the self-sacrificing women that sacrifice others most recklessly. Because they are unselfish, they are kind in little things. Because they have a purpose which is not their own purpose, but that of the whole universe, a man is nothing to them but an instrument of that purpose (Shaw Man 25-26).
The Life Force or the creative evolution is the nucleus in the relationship between man and woman. The law governing this universe enjoins that the process of procreation must be perpetuated for the emergence of better human race. This is the law of nature. A women therefore seeks ruthlessly to enslave her chosen mate in order to breed the generations to come. For bringing into this world, a new race of yet higher order and superior intelligence, women remains engaged in a ceaseless pursuit of entrapping man. The aim is the same in respect of both the sexes: to help in a new race, a superior or better generation. Bergson’s philosophy has similarity with French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck’s biological concept of the organism’s tendency to adapt to environment, to survive through self-transformation. Lamarck predated Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which Shaw opposed. On the contrary, he goes by going back to the earlier idea of Lamarckian determinism in the form of an unconscious will towards life.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Sociopolitical Worldview of George Bernard Shaw
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
Shaw’s Life Force theory is derived from his philosophy and biological theory.This became a common theme in his work, especially in his prefaces. This tendency of his is explicitly found in the Don Juan in Hell section found in Act III, where Ann Whitefield transforms into Dona Ana de Ulloa and Tanner becomes Don Juan Tenario. They debate on the relative merits of heaven and earth with the devil and “the statue,” Ana’s dead father. Don Juan insists that,
Life is a force which has made innumerable experiments in organizing itself … the mammoth and the man, the mouse and the megatherium, the files and the fleas and the Fathers of the Church are all more or less successful attempts to build up that raw force into higher and higher individuals, the ideal individual being omnipotent, omniscient, infallible, and withal completely, unilludedly self-conscious in short, a god (Shaw Man 126).
The ultimate purpose of evolution or Life Force is to generate a superior being, the Superman. In Man and Superman Shaw presented female instinct as the flows of Life Force. Female have only purpose to gain union with the male who has the intellectual superiority. Man is only an instrument to her in fulfilling that purpose. An exceptional woman with full of strong and alluring Life Force does not accept weaker intellects. As for example irresistible to strong women Ann rejects Octavius, who though not unintelligent, lacks charisma. But she accepts biologically more desirable Tanner, the intelligent revolutionary.
Shaw is a realist who tries to find out the essence of truth behind the superficial costume of romance and respectability. Modern civilization appears to him as a grand show without any inner meaning. Here everything is fabricated and nothing is real. This is the problem for Shaw, and in his search for the essence of life he has gone deeper than the purely economic phenomena and become a student of Life itself. He has found that other things might be fictitious; but there can be no skepticism about life which does exist and cannot be dismissed as a Maya.The world of phenomena appears to all of us as an object of knowledge; it has no reality except as an object of perception. In the language of Schopenhauer, the world is only an Idea. Schopenhauer says that the answer to the riddle of life is in the Will, which is the essence of existence in all its forms and grades (Gupta 11). “In us also the same will is in many ways only blindly active: in all the functions of our body which are not guided by knowledge, in all its vital and vegetative processes, digestion, circulation, secretion, growth, reproduction” (Schopenhauer 163). Now the question is: What is the ultimate end of this essence of existence? Will to what? Dr. Sen Gupta argues that the great German philosopher thinks:
The Will, being blindly active, is free from all aim, from all limits, and that its only expression is found in an endless striving. To this view of the purposelessness of the Will may be traced the melancholy nature of his philosophy. All willing, he thinks arises from want, but the satisfaction of a wish does not bring happiness, because at bottom, the Will is without any purpose. The denial of a wish is attended with pain, but the satisfaction of it leads only to more desire (Gupta 12).
Thus Suffering is brought on not only by the denial or the satisfaction of wishes but also by a conflict which is inseparable from willing. The Will, according to Schopenhauer, is an endless striving, although to no purpose. Every object in nature is an objectification of the Will which seeks the highest possible form of objectification and to give up the lower grades of its manifestation after a conflict, in order to appear in a higher grade and so much the more powerful. In the same way, Nietzsche had asserted that Life, or Fate, or God, or Zarathustra, will ultimately evolve somebody greater than man. This greater man would be superior to ordinary man, and by virtue of his superior qualities he would be entitled to rule over other ordinary man (Gupta 12).
Shaw accepts the metaphysical principle that the Will is the essence of reality, but rejects the Schopenhauerian philosophy of struggle and pain. He regards the Will which he calls the Life Force as groundless, as beyond the principle of Sufficient Reason but it has, according to him, a profound purpose that guides its activities and that purpose is: Evolution or betterment. The Will is not only active, but also creative, and therefore, though unconscious, it is not blind. Its different manifestations are not only objectifications but also creations (Gupta 12-13). Sen Gupta portrayed the idea in this way:
The Life Force continually strives to improve on its own creations, just as an artist strives after more and more complete expression of his personality. The lower forms of life are only experiments which the Life Force rejects as soon as it finds something better. The striving of the Will is not due to any ‘deficiency’, as Schopenhauer thought, but to an Inner necessity for completer expression and fuller evolution (Gupta 13).
Life’s battles are, as Shaw’s Don Juan reminds us, mere blunders. Struggle and conflict being altogether foreign to the nature of life, there can be no room for happiness and Sorrow. “The Life Force may entail suffering for the individual, but it is itself innocent of and indifferent to pleasure and pain. It tries to minimize suffering, because the most successful creation is also the one that is most spontaneous” (Gupta 13). Life Force is found in objective form in all the creatures it has caused to create. This Force causes the various species that exist to evolve or develop into something better than their former existence. This is the immediate purpose with which it works. As it is not all powerful it has to work through its creatures; as it is not all knowing it makes mistakes. The Megatherium and Ichthiosaurus which are extinct are examples of the failures of the Force in its attempt to reach perfection. So the Life Force or the Creative Will has been working for millions of years for the creation of better and better forms of life. Man is at present at the top of creation. But the Life Force is not satisfied. It wants man to evolve into the superman who will be intellectually, morally and spiritually perfect. Sen Gupta explains that with critical comments:
Shaw’s originality consists, therefore, in (a) his attempt to discover the ultimate creative purpose of the Will and in (b) looking upon the element of conflict as absolutely inessential to life. The fundamental purpose of the Life Force or the Will is betterment, and, therefore, Shaw believes in Evolution, though he is not a Darwinian. Darwin’s idea of Evolution minimizes the agency of the Will to insignificance (Gupta 14).
The evolution process has been facing some barriers for creating a better human race as marriage is the only legal process for procreation. Marriage is conditioned on various social norms and regulations. Society has done a grievous mistake in mixing morality with marriage. By doing so people have lost regard for true morality. They have become true hypocrites. Marriage is an arrangement of convenience to rear the future generation. But society has put a radiance of sanctity to it and romantic ideas like chastity, honour and such have clouded its purpose. Don Juan argues that “A woman seeking a husband is the most unscrupulous of all the beast 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 134). At that moment of Life Force, she is in the fury of creation. She has a purpose which is not her own purpose but that of the whole universe; a man is nothing to her but an instrument of that purpose. So, if a woman marries a man for social, economic or political reasons, the cause of human betterment is sacrificed. The cause of the Life Force is only served if she is guided by her instinct. Once she is in the grip of the Life Force she pursues the chosen man most relentlessly.