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Reading Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House: Who Does Save the Country?

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2012, 25(2), pp.65-91
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Yeong-Yoon Seo 1

1한성대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

In Heartbreak House(1919), Shaw attempts to dramatize the disintegrating British society before the First World War. Here he describes the impending national crisis and explores the question as to ‘who does save the country from the crisis?’. The set is the ship-shaped house called Heartbreak House. It functions allegorically as a ship of state. In this play the upper classes are indifferent to the public world and pass the time to absorb themselves in private worlds of romantic dreams and sentimental flirtations. Shaw suggests that their lives are sustained mostly by illusions and plays. The last scene may be apocalyptic warnings of the judgment. But there is no denying that these warnings have no effect on the inhabitants of Heartbreak House. Immediately when an imminent danger by the air-raid is disappeared, they hope for another one. In this vein, Heartbreak House reveals a deeply pessimistic view on the upper classes considering the war as a kind of amusement. Shaw tries to find the possibility of saving England through Ellie. At first Ellie is an innocent girl who has fallen in romantic love with Marcus Darnley but experiences heartbreak by realizing that he turns out to be Hector. Under Hesione’s influence, Hector loses his potentiality as an idealist and reformer and is reduced to an impotent Byronic lover. It is Ellie’s disillusionment with him that marks the beginning of her progress towards maturity. After her disillusionment with Hector, Ellie becomes a snobbish girl to marry old Mangan for her physical complacency and material happiness. With Shotover’s help, Ellie gets out of the marriage-for-money trap and finally turns to Shotover for his wisdom. But she immediately discovers that he, though wiser than the others, needs rum to sustain himself. It may be true that Ellie acquires new spiritual values under Shotover’s influence, but it is not clear to what purpose. Shotover may be the person with wisdom but can’t do anything without rum. Even though their marriage may be a symbol of saving the country, it is doubted that England can be saved through their marriage. Because it cannot promise any fruit of love.

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