The Philosophies on the Way of Life of Society in Modern Day London in Man and Superman, a Play by George Bernard Shaw

The Journey to Understanding One’s Purpose Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw is a romantic comedy and a philosophical debate on the way of life of society in modern day London, during the nineteenth century. Many of the ideas Shaw presented were during a time of strict social conventions, where many people were hearing of the radical ideas that were presented in the play for the first time. In the beginning of the play, we find out that Violet is pregnant and unmarried.

This is among the first social shocks to the audience during the time period it was first published In the early 19005, premarital sex was deemed as immoral and scandalous, so to the people, this was an outrageous idea and highly looked down upon However, later we discover that she is in fact married, but it is to be kept secret. Prior to this discovery, Jack Tanner had been the only individual to congratulate Violet, as he believes that she was just following life’s natural impulses and is proud she did so against society’s expectations.

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Roebuck Ramsden and Mrs, Whitefield represent the authority of the old order and traditional views in which Jack Tanner is trying to overthrow in the play. Tanner defies the social conventions and old fashioned traditions in hopes of leading the way to a better world. The potential future of mankind is explored through the concept of the “Superman”, whom is intellectually and morally superior than the average man. This is because without intellect, man “blunders into death” (Shaw 159).

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The philosophic man “seeks in contemplation to discover the inner will of the world, in invention to discover the means of fulfilling that will, and in action that will by the so-discovered means.” (Shaw 160) This is a prevalent theme that in other words means, humans should seek their highest ability and intellect level to comprehend their ultimate purpose. The Superman in Man and Superman has the ability to be formed through the coalition of Jack Tanner, an intellectually superior man, and Ann Whitefield, a woman who embodies the “Life Force’i The purpose of the Life Force is to create an optimum being, It flows through female intuition, and the sole purpose is to achieve union with a male of intellectual superiority to create the Superman In addition to this philosophy, Shaw establishes the importance of intellect in one’s life and disputes various controversies of the time period including the war on gender roles, instinct vs intellect, and challenging various social conventions. Man and Superman is essentially an outlet for getting the public to listen to his philosophies. One of Shaw’s philosophies involves the war between genders- women are the dominant, even if man, their antagonist, is a Superman, This is because in a battle between instinct and intelligence, instinct always wins, The character of Ann Whitefield presented a female lead who was aware of her sexuality and allowed her desires to guide her actions throughout the play.

The fact that some of Ann’s motivations behind her seduction of Jack Tanner align with the stereotypical roles of women, does not condemn Ann to an inferior position within society In Act IV, Arm sharply questions stereotypical ideas concerning women when Octavius claims that despite her actions or appearances, his sister is still womanly; “ANN: Why do you say that? Is it unwomanly to be thoughtful and businesslike and sensible? Do you want Violet to be an idiot 7” (Shaw 192). Ann Whitefield has a desire to seduce Jack Tanner, marry him, and have children with him These are common desires for both men and women While this future for Ann Whitefield may not depict the modern feminist ideal of what a woman should do with her life, Shaw was attempting to allow his audience see that a woman was capable of fulfilling her own desires This young woman is playing with the boundaries of society‘s morals and her own urges to experience life without sexual restraint or restrictions based on her gendert Ann Whitefield proves to the 1803 audience as well the modern audience that women can be as witty and powerful as men, while also seeking motherhood. The philosophical meaning of the play also shines forth from the fact that Tanner, representing the good man, is unsuccessful in defending his self»restraint against a scheming woman who embodies the sexual, maternal drive. Tanner ultimately surrenders his control of sexual instinct, succumbs and gets married. This is ground—breaking for him, as he has essentially committed moral suicide in succumbing to conventionality. Tanner has a dream that he is in Hell, a play within a play if you will, which ends up being a platonic dialogue: ”Don Juan in Hell.” In this scene, four of the main characters are re-embodied as historical or mythical figures. Tanner appears as Don Juan, the man of moral passion; Ann as Dofia Ana de Ulloa, the eternal maternal female; Ramsden as Don Gonzalo, the man of pleasure; and Mendoza (leader of the bandits) as the Devil (Shaw 141).

They engage in a debate of heaven and earth with the devil and “the statue”, that Don Juan, speaking for Shaw, exploits his views with a series of lengthy monologues, Shaw gets an opportunity to present a full discussion of his theory of creative evolution. He has expressed a number of ideas through the debate between Don Juan and the Devil, Hell is recreated as the place of beauty, art and pleasure where the best people wish to live after death. Don Juan tells the Devil that man’s greatness is that he has a brain. Nature created magnificent creatures like the megatberium but they had to be rejected because they did not have a brain. Don Juan insisted that, “Life is a force which has made innumerable experiments in organizing itself, that the mammoth and the roan, 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 159). This is the ultimate purpose of the Life Force, to create a superior being known as the Superman. Which intellect may seem like an odd property to combine with the Life Force, but Don Juan explains that intellect is needed to avoid death, thus the woman seeks a mate whose offspring have a good chance of survivalr The end of Man, Don Juan argues, is the cultivation of intellect, only by exercising it unemotionally can Man discover his purpose, and following discovery, he may fulfill it. Therefore, the good Man, the Man of moral passion, will avoid anything that disrupts the life of reason. However, it is Woman in her attempt to domesticate due to her persistent drive to procreate and marry, that weaken and distract Man. It is when Man surrenders to Woman that he is doomed Don Juan describes Heaven as a place in which “you live and work instead of playing and pretending. You face things as they are; you escape nothing but glamour; and your steadfastness and your peril are your glory”.

This is a clear implication as to the state Jack Tanner is in mentally that he is in Hell, a place where you don’t have to face reality. He is avoiding responsibilities in his personal life as well as the feelings he has developed for Ann. At the end of the act, he chooses to go to heaven which represents him subconsciously choosing the life he has been avoiding. The life that doesn’t avoid convention, accepts Ann, and isn‘t primarily concerned with self-gratification. In the end, by marrying Ann, Tanner admits that Woman, sustained by the “Life Force,” is bound to win; that Man, even Superman, is bound to give in to Woman in her goal of perpetuating the race. “TANNER. [seizing her in his arms] It is false: I love you. The Life Force enchants me: I have the whole world in my arms when I clasp you. But I am fighting for my freedom, for my honor, for myself, one and indivisible. [ml TANNER. [groaning] Oh, that clutch holds and hurts. What have you grasped in me? Is there a father’s heart as well as a mother’s? ANN, Take care, Jack: if anyone comes while we are like this, you will have to marry me TANNER, If we two stood now on the edge of a precipice, I would hold you tight and jump ANN, [panting, failing more and more under the strain] Jack: let me go. I have dared so frightfully»it is lasting longer than I thought Let me go: I can’t bear it TANNER, Nor I, Let it kill us. ANN. Yes: I don‘t care. I am at the end of my forces. I don’t care. I think I am going to faint” (Shaw 200). This intimate moment between the two characters demonstrates Shaw’s ability to portray the climax of the sex act on stage by disguising the sexual fulfillment as a heated conversation concerning the strong romantic emotions that each character feels for the other. By stating that he has discovered the existence of a “father’s heart”, equal to a “mother’s heart”, Jack Tanner shows that the pursuit of marriage and the desire to procreate is not essentially feminine or masculine, but rather an equal emotion among humans. Shaw portrayed the pursuit of sexual desire in a raw light that pushes the audience to experience their own emotions and to realize that all people experience these emotions.

Emotions are easily pushed aside and labeled as an unimportant “feminine” experience when they are actually one of the few things in life that links every human regardless of culture, gender, sexualityi When people are able to experience and understand their own feelings they gain an improved perspective of themselves and the people around them. In this scene, Shaw completed his task of writing a romantic play based on the exploration of the character‘s sexual gratification. Dukore examines how Shaw utilized sexual desire to motivate the actions of his characters and the overall plot of the play; “Jack unequivocally declares before the assembled crowd that he and Ann will marry. [m] As Shaw urged Robert Loraine, whom he directed in the role at the Court Theatre in 1907 [m] ‘Do let us feel you are beatenr’ The other matter is that what precipitates her victory is sex, or to put it in another way, an intense emotional experience that she and Jack share” (Dukore 26). Beginning with an examination of Shaw’s preface to Man and Superman, Dukore discusses Shaw’s ability to break through the traditional social gender roles of men and women Shaw completes this task with the unique leading female character, Ann Whitefield Ann demonstrates that ability for a woman to methodically seek out a particular male and win his hand in marriage, a direct contradiction to the accepted Victorian norms of courtship, As the director of his own play, Shaw urged his leading male actor, Robert Loraine (portraying Jack Tanner), to demonstrate to the audience that Jack is a defeated man by the end of the play Shaw has shown that one of his purposes in this plot was to show the defeat, or perhaps rather the overpowering, of a man by a woman. Oftentimes in literature, authors will use their work to express their views and it is the reader’s job to analyze and attempt to make sense of them George Bernard Shaw has encrypted his plays with not only social commentary, but his beliefs and philosophies In Man and Superman, these ever-present beliefs shine forth in a romantic comedy with familiar romantic and melodramatic elements such as a will, the apparently fallen woman, and an episode involving capture by brigands.

Shaw develops situations by series of misunderstandings, also known as mistaken awareness, thus being able to build up in each successive act a series of entertaining and rather exciting climaxes, For example, in the beginning ofAct l, the audience witnesses Ramsden confident that he will be the sole guardian ofAnn Whitefield and very determined to keep Jack Tanner as far away from her as possible, However, when Jack leaves, Ramsden learns that, very much against his will, Tanner will be the co-guardian of the young lady. This is a satisfying sort of dramatic irony to the audience. In the same act, the Violet Robinson subplot gets underway and begins to provide counterpoint to the main action. Very much like the main plot, it develops the sex theme and reveals woman as the dominant partner in the love game, Before her appearance, the audience believes that Violet has disgraced herself. This is where Shaw develops one of the finest examples of dramatic irony in modern drama The countendiscovery, that is, the correction of mistaken awareness, is: Violet is revealed as a respectable married woman. As the play progresses, Shaw continues to make effective use of dramatic irony. The initial dialogue between Jack Tanner and Straker lets the audience know that the ignorant Tanner is the one that Ann is pursuing, not Octavius. Ann enters, unaware that Jack has received Rhoda’s note giving the real reason why she cannotjoin Tanner on the motor trip, and is caught in a lie — firsthand proof that she is absolutely ruthless in her pursuit of the male. Enter Hector Malone. All but Violet are unaware of the fact that he is her husband, and once more Shaw realizes the comic possibilities of the situation, which nicely balances the earlier one involving Violet. In Act IV, Malone reads the note Violet had intended for Hector. This is known as a variation of the eavesdropping device that is so common in the theater. Mistaken awareness flourishes in this act when Malone thinks that his son is pursuing a married woman, then later learns that Hector is Violet’s husband This episode had a sort of balancing effect on the events that took place in the first act. In Maya Angelou’s Poem “Phenomenal Woman”, she is speaking of being a strong woman that men flock after, similarly to Ann Whitefield:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I‘m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips

I’m a woman

Phenomenally i

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me,

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me,

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them

They say they still can’t see.

I say, It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That‘s me

Now you understand

Jusl why my head’s not bowedl

I don’t shout orjump about

Or have to talk real loud when you see me passing

It ought m make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand,

The need of my care,

‘Cause I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me. (Angelou)

The first stanza Angelou starts by stating that pretty women are thinking what is making her look beautiful as she is not your typical pretty face, yet men still find her very attractive and this makes other women wonder. This is similar to how the women with a weaker Life Force than Ann react to how the men want her in Man and Superman. Ann Whitefield is a strong woman whose primary concern is to get married and have children. However, the Man she deems fit to produce a Superman with, is more concerned with his intellect than succumbing to her conventional lifestyle Jack Tanner initially does not want to give in and admit that he has feelings for Ann, “Men themselves have wondered what they see in me” (Angelou), this is much like Tanner’s thought process of why he finds her so compelling because he does not typically desire anything that follows tradition in the second stanza the persona starts with imagery considering men and the way they look at her. She says that whenever she walks into a place full of men, they either stand up or fall on their knees Angelou compares men to bees and she says that whenever they see her they all surround her and they all want to get as close to her as possible. She seems to be almost like a goddess to them, a queen bee — they would do whatever she tells them, This is very much like how Ann can basically make any man do whatever she tells them due to her charming personality, charisma, and resilient Life Force She was able to convince Tanner to marry her which was a next to impossible task, she truly has a way with conquering anything she yearns for, especially from men All in all, despite the philosophies and loquacious dream scene, the tone of the play is still very comic and lighti George Bernard Shaw wrote Man and Superman in response to the idea that drama should merely entertain and also carefully quarreled the people that seem to be

almost consumed in a conventional lifestyle. Shaw nails the courtship of John Tanner as an intelligent bachelor who values his freedom and Ann as a strong, charming woman who tricks him into becoming her guardian and later her husband. Shaw portrays Man as being the fundamental brains of the world, but Woman, ultimately, being much more powerful due to inhabiting a resilient Life Force. The Life Force, through a process of trial and error, is making living creatures including humans to move towards forms not of greater beauty, and physical power but towards higher intelligence. The Superman will come into existence through selective breeding. In traditional views, the romantic idea is that the male takes the initiative and the male ultimately wins the female. The Shavian idea is just the opposite, where the female being sexually more active takes the initiative and wins the male. One can take many of Shaw‘s philosophies and apply it their own lives, such as the notion that humans should seek their highest ability and intellect level in order to comprehend their ultimate purpose If you reach your optimum intelligence and are confident in your abilities, then that is when you will discover what your purpose and direction is in the world. This happened all throughout the ages in Man and Superman. The Life Force has been making experiments to create higher and higher forms of life and now its aim is to create an optimum or god-like being, which could be attained to an extent in our society if we participate in the same ideals of selective breeding.

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The Philosophies on the Way of Life of Society in Modern Day London in Man and Superman, a Play by George Bernard Shaw. (2022, Jul 15). Retrieved from

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