Bread and Circuses

That’s about all I can say: The Devil’s Disciple Shavian to the core. I’ve never had a movie shake the foundations of reality so severely as did this one. Of course, it being a Shaw play originally, so I should have expected it: something along the lines of Arms and the Man in philosophy. Shaw was a great playwright, but completely Communist (or at least Socialist) in belief.

The general plot is “bad is good, good is bad,” leaving, of course, the interpretation that it’s better to be bad, and the good going bad is really becoming better, if you followed that. It breaks down like so:

Though she is not presented as the main character, the story is really about Mrs. Anderson. She begins as a “good woman” (quoth Mr. Dudgeon). However, as the plot progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that her goodness is not inherent, but something she is constantly working at, fighting against her nature the whole time. All well and good, except a sin nature is presented by Shaw as a felicitous thing.

The ever-present “good in everyone” theme is so specially strong in this story that Dudgeon, an avowed Satanist (to be fair, it’s not clear whether he actually worships Satan or merely said so to needle the minister: either way, though, he’s not a nice fellow), is the hero (and not in the Paradise Lost sense) whose every action is condoned and who is designed to be strongly sympathized with by the audience.

In the end, Anderson renounces the cloth and becomes a revolutionary (not to say at all that I oppose the American Revolution, historical event though it may be), while Dudgeon is revealed as a sympathetic and all-around nice guy (in a still “bad” character, of course).

The crowning event of the story is Anderson’s test of his wife: he offers her as wife to Dudgeon, who accepts the offer. In a short scene of frantic glances from husband to lover, she runs crying out of the town and up into the hills. After some comradely back-slapping between the two men, Anderson mounts, heads out, and picks up his wife who is running still uphill towards the woods.

In the manner of A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Shaw’s attitudes of female liberty are even in his own writing shown as false. Like Nora, Judith’s striving for independence from her husband’s authority results in a less-than-satisfactory emotional state. However, while both Nora (in Doll’s House) and Judith are patronized by their husbands, they are both inherently weak thinkers: characters naturally set up for patronization, rather than accurately-representative women. The patronization of both women is less the fault of the men (though they are not entirely innocent) than of the women themselves, except for the fact that the men “married low” intellectually, and ended up with women they could not possibly respect.

Moral: Don’t marry outside your class (not social, but intellectual).


*Literary heroes (in the epic sense) are more protagonists than heroes in the modern sense. Lucifer (Satan) is the hero of Paradise Lost, in that much of the story is told from his point of view, even though his actions are not specifically condoned.


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