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Examining Gender Roles In Man And Superman

1663 words - 7 pages

The dynamics of the characters and relationships represented in Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman have created a buzz of critical debate among the world of theater for the past century. The focus typically remains on two of the main characters, Ann Whitefield and John “Jack” Tanner, in an effort to examine in entirety whether the characters represent gender roles that oppose the accepted social norm or whether the characters actually support the typical gender roles. Bernard Shaw, when viewed by the standards of his time and perhaps modern society as well, constructed a dramatic representation that is supportive of the political ideas concerning the social equality of the sexes. While the characters Ann and Jack may possess stereotypical gender characteristics that motive their actions in the play, both characters advance the political movements for equality of Shaw’s time by exploring their sexuality on stage, witnessed by a live audience.
By discussing and giving examples of human emotions such as passion, love, envy, and jealousy, Shaw was able to show the range of human beings – regardless of their gender. Shaw wanted to demonstrate to his audience and contemporaries his belief that people should take pleasure in their emotions and that they should submerse themselves into their true sexuality. Shaw created characters filled with intellect and passion, showing that the characters were innately intimate and that sexuality, through intimacy, should be embraced by society rather than feared. Carpenter argues that at the turn of the 20th century, Shaw suggested that the Puritan ideals of Victorian society had perpetrated the British stage, placing playwrights in a delicate position. Carpenter’s articles focuses specifically on the tact that Shaw mastered by presenting these controversial topics to the public without creating an offensively obscene play:
In 1900, Bernard Shaw diagnosed the English theatre's preoccupation with sex in his preface to Three Plays for Puritans and, conceivably as a chain reaction, decided to write a genuine sex play himself. At that time, the average middle-class Englishman was a sort of prurient Puritan, too timid even to pronounce the word sex, yet entranced by the topic. […] From its earliest conception, Shaw spoke of his "Donjuán play" as unfit for the stage of the current generation [and gave the play …] substantial Puritanizing treatment. […]Man and Superman really amounts to a fourth play for Puritans. Shaw's attempt to give sex a full-fledged dramatic rendering, though doubtless far from the half-baked romantic play of the time. (Carpenter 70)
Shaw’s solution to appealing to the audience’s human curiosity of sexual desire without crossing society’s prudent moral line was to create “the romantic play”, an exploration of sexual desire and fulfillment disguised as an uncontroversial romantic plot that ends with a traditional matrimonial engagement. Man and Superman was Shaw’s answer to displaying the sexual...

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