Character of Ann Whitefield in Shaw’s Man and Superman
Though volumes of criticism have gone to the interpretation of Man and Superman, Ann Whitefield continues to be an enigma. As such that critics are tempted to pronounce partial judgement regarding her character and narrow down the scope and position of her role in the play. Most critics agree with Arthur H. Nethercot that Ann is Shaw’s “prototype of predatory female”, but the assessment of her specific roles vary. Thus Barbara Watson celebrates Ann’s vitality and originality; Mergery M. Morgan denounces her calculating conventionality; and Elric Adams finds that Ann is merely a “composite of traditional types” of heroines. Even her fellow dramatis personae perceive her from their own narrowly circumscribed perspective. To understand Ann in her totality, her role and character should be understood in terms of the organising principles behind the purpose of the composition of the play. That is to say, the play is intended to be a synthesis of the Don Juan myth and Shaw’s philosophy of Creative Evolution, which aims at the making of Superman in accordance with the Life-force, an evolving principle behind the evolution of human race. In the process, active participation of a woman (Ann Whitefield) is needed to be incorporated. But since this is a very complex phenomenon, her character and role have to be critically in different realms of thought—sociology, psychology, philosophy and mythology—so that she can emerge truly as the mother figure for the Superman to come.
The action of the play is conceived and located in two different structures: the immediately apparent dramatic surface reveals the familiar action of comic romance. This in turn derives from a conceptual deep structure, mythic in both content and origin, whose forward thrust directs the surface action. Female domination of the male is one of the most obvious characteristics of the romantic comedy, a truly remarkable paradox since the women have no outlet for their energies outside their narrowly and traditionally defined social and biological roles. Nevertheless, within the confines of their role , women like Ann and Violet exert a powerful , though always a decorous force. Despite Tanner’s protest against marriage and his pretensions to being a utopian philosopher, he is seen as frightened male fleeing from Ann, and finally he is won by Ann as her husband. Similarly, Robuck Ramsden, a “president of highly respectable men” is rendered “Annie’s Granny”, a pompous and ineffectual man. The aspiring poet, Octovious is also paralysed by a romanticised conception of Ann. Again, in the sub-plot both Hector Malone and his son are dominated by Violet’s desire to have marriage and money as well. Even unrequited love for the absent Louisa has made a mountain brigand out of urbane waiter Mendoza.
Thus on the surface comedy, Shaw inverts the traditional man-woman dichotomy which assumed the passivity of women and their corresponding domination by men. He ignores the contemporary Victorian division in favour of the ahistorical view so vehemently asserted by Nietzsche. Nietzche’s simplistic avowal that “everything in women hath a solution—it is called pregnancy”, however, is modified by Shaw’s Schopenhaurian belief n Will. Ann, heir to this Will, is consequently endowed with certain aggressive tendencies popularly thought to be masculine. This inversion is intended not simply for the sake of comedy, but for the sake of serious philosophical concern of Shaw.
Comedy erupts in the first act with Ann’s insistence on retaining Tanner as her guardian. This provokes in him a series of reactions, but finally he is forced to confess of “the birth of moral passion” in him. Act II shows Ann adroitly manipulating Tanner who, in response, leaps into “a sociological rage” only to be neatly deflated. Even she successfully pursues him into the Siera Nevada to capture with the help of Life-force and police force. Thus in her manipulation of the means available to her, Ann emerges supreme in a way Tanner does not approximate. For, her instincts transcend her limited awareness, while Tanner’s intellect is by definition inferior to that of the evolving Superman and by nature less forceful than Ann’s Will. Thus despite lacking the higher intellect the superman will supposedly possess, Ann is more than an instrument of Life-force. For, she becomes identified with the essence of Creative Evolution. Her elusive nature, ever-changing ever various is symbolic of the unending process involved in the system. Therefore, on the surface, the characters around Ann are able discriminate only those qualities they most desire in a woman or expect to see it.
Ironically however, it is Octovious’s abstract projection of Ann, though blurred by his excessive colour of poeticising, that comes near the greater understanding of her character and role. He finds in her “an enchantingly beautiful woman£ who reminds him of “the mystic memory of the whole life of the race to its beginning in the east, or even back to the paradise from which it fell”. This description alludes to the mythic conception of woman which subsumes a startling array of role: daughter, sister, Virgin, bride and mother—all within the mythological role of Queen Goddess of the world, as Sally Peters Vogt has suggested, “the archetypal Goddess who consumes as well as nourishes.” As the goddess and therefore lure and guide to him, Ann tries to lead tanner from dianoia to nous, from merely rational knowledge to unifying wisdom possible through determined will and faith. But paradoxically he recognises in her only the temptress, thereby labelling her with a number of epithets like ‘cat’, ‘boa-constrictor’, ‘lioness’ ‘tiger’, ‘spider’, ‘bee’ and ‘elephant’. Certainly Shaw has not arbitrarily chosen these unlikely animals only to allude outrageously to Ann’s mythic conceptualisations. In mythic lore, the lioness is held to be a symbol of magna mater, while queen bee is associated with both the mother goddess and the Virgin Mary. Similarly, the creativity, aggressiveness and illusion associated the spider are traits Ann exhibits as she pursues and persuades as much as she exhibits the strength and powerful libido which tradition accords the elephant. Again, inextricably identified with Eve—with whom Ann is linked in the stage direction—the snake more than any other creature symbolise the feminine principles. More than this, the majority of these animals are considered lunar animals and have specific associations with the moon in various mythologies. Indeed the psychological functioning of the female is viewed as in some way dependent on the fertility-controlling lunar cycle. Consequently, the additional feminine qualities of maternal love and protection are attributed to the moon, even while its half light creates an aura suggestive of danger and the unconscious. The lunar qualities surface Ann’s inability to explain her motives consciously. Nevertheless she risks all to be wife and mother, even “perhaps death”. More pointedly, her portrait is directly consistent with the major characteristic imputed to the moon, a felicitous ability to appear as both the chaste Diana and the sorceress Hecate. And the incessant modifications in its apparent shape that the moon undergoes are reflected in Ann’s constant role-changing.