George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and one of the most famous ones of the 17th century. He was a firm believer of socialism and was one of the main proponents in founding the Labour Party in the United Kingdom. One of his most acclaimed plays is Man and Superman. The story focuses on how an anarchist is won over by a woman.
The main concept for Bernard Shaw writing this play is Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical ideas about ‘Superman’. The plot though used in a lighter sense can be construed to include deeper and graver thoughts of the author. The author brings to light the central theme – when does man become superman, a person who is neither a master nor a slave. Communism as propagated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also envisioned a similar situation when man is neither a master nor a slave – they are superman.
The situation sounds too good to be true. The word superman has been used over the decades in a wide sense. Hitler used it to describe the superior Aryan blood of the Nazis, anarchists used it to describe themselves, and we have Nietzsche’s interpretation. However, despite all these incidents, we do not really see the term ‘superman’ being a reality. The question is why. Hitler despite calling Nazis as ‘Ubermensch’, used it only as a racial discriminator, and did not truly understand its meaning. Anarchists identified themselves with Nietzsche’s nature of hating the state and state mechanism, and the state’s effect on the market and cultural production.
In the play, the woman character gets the man to marry her. She is portrayed as the life force, the force that dictates the workings of the world. Shaw therefore is of the view ‘in every culture, it is the women who force the men to marry them rather than the men who take the initiative’. Therefore, we return to the moot point once again – how can man become superman when they do not take the initiative?
Out of all this clashing ideologies, I find that the central motion put forward by Bernard Shaw is not communism or socialism, despite him being one, but rather that love can dissolve boundaries and bring people together. As Groucho Marx correctly pointed out, ‘Behind every successful man is a woman, behind her is his wife’. Therefore, man is nothing without a woman standing beside him, be it his mother or wife. This proves that the male specie of the human race has to advance and upgrade himself to be truly independent. Nietzsche posits Ubermensch as the goal for humanity to set for itself. Nietzsche links the Übermensch to the body and to interpreting the soul as simply an aspect of the body. Then only can man be superman.