Document Type


Date of Award



School of Communication (SOC)

Degree Name

MA in English

First Advisor

Michael D. Sollars,


As one of Europe's leading playwrights and social critics, George Bernard Shaw focused his extensive dramatic oeuvre on societal questions and problems. He tackled such problems as prostitution, socialism, and capitalism, the role of the female sex, and other prevalent issues of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Shaw's list of plays is long, but, arguably, Mrs. Warren's Profession, Major Barbara, and Pygmalion have emerged as among his most significant writings, as these dramatic stagings expertly explore these and other themes. In the three plays, Shaw defends, in particular, women's rights: how women suffer from the impact of the upper class mindset and from a lack of vision and opportunity in terms of identity and purpose. In Mrs. Warren's Profession, the title character wants to elevate herself from a struggling woman with few prospects to one who enjoys economic prosperity and a place in society. Her efforts are not without challenges, as she, a poor woman, is oppressed by the hierarchal social classes. This situation leads Mrs. Warren into the profession of 1 2 Major Barbara discusses the moral issues and the influence of poverty on people. Major Barbara devotes her life to assist poor people, and as a result, she stands against her capitalistic father, Mr. Undershaft, who produces of military ordnance. Thus, she looks for ways to stop her father's monetary influence and dominance; she struggles to find a clear vision of her identity as a part of society. She is caught between two extremes, her background as a middle-class woman and her passions for the lower class. Finally, Pygmalion is concerned with the notion of transformation from the lower class to upper class. Eliza, the poor, guttural speaking flower girl, tries to find a purpose, meaning, and position within society to focus her livelihood and identity. While her goal is not for the upper-class status, but that of a dignified flower shop worker, Professor Higgins seeks to turn her into a lady. Thus, Mrs. Warren's Profession, Major Barbara, and Pygmalion success a domain of social conflict defmed by gender in a series of transformations pitting superiority and inferiority against each other. The methodology employed in this thesis includes a close examination of Shaw's plays and prefaces, a review and exploration of leading critical and scholarly secondary sources, and an evaluation of the merit of these critical sources. This thesis will explore the social dimension of the society's weaknesses and how female characters fit into Shaw's three plays. All of these women appear strong-willed and purposeful. They triumph in spite of the social class into which they were born. Shaw's treatment of the female sex is to elevate women; they achieve success, although that success comes at a price: the women become mature, smart, and triumphant, and, most importantly, their triumph does not come at the expense of others