Man And Superman Summary

George Bernard Shaw

Man And Superman

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Man And Superman Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw.

Man and Superman is a four-act drama written by George Bernard Shaw in 1903. In Man and Superman, Shaw portrays a conventional courtship from a nonconventional perspective (for the time period). In more traditional stories of the time, the woman would be pursued, perhaps hunted, so to speak, and would submit to the man. In this play, a man is hunted by a very relentless woman.

Ann Whitefield is one of the main charters. Shaw believed that normally women like Ann Whitefield pursue their intended husbands with such persistence, and yet with soft subtlety, that they lead the men to think that they themselves are the pursuers.

The plot consists of two storylines. The first is the courtship of John Tanner and Ann Whitefield. John Tanner is a progressive thinker, and he is opposed to all things associated with tradition or convention. At the start of the story, Mr. Whitefield, Ann’s father, has recently died, and his will indicates that his daughter, Ann, should be left in the care of two men, Roebuck Ramsden and John Tanner. As a result, both men are co-guardians of Ann Whitefield. Ramsden is the complete opposite of Tanner. Ramsden is established and conventional to the core, even though he calls himself a progressive person. Ramsden, an older man, does not trust Tanner, his youth, or his discretion. Even though Ramsden shares feelings of distrust with Ann, she wants Tanner to remain as her co-guardian.

Finally, both Tanner and Ramsden appeal to Ann, asking her to select one of them as her guardian to fulfill her father’s wishes, but she refuses to make a choice. Using the pretense of “respecting her father’s last wishes,” she humbly and intelligently says she would like both of the men to remain in their joint capacity as her guardians. In reality, however, she is simply setting her cunning trap for Tanner because she desires him.

Secondary to this developing plot is the story of Violet Robinson and Hector Malone. Violet is the sister of Octavius Robinson, a poet who is hopelessly in love with Ann Whitefield. Violet initially announces that she is pregnant; then she announces that she is married, but she refuses to name her husband. Later, it becomes obvious (only to the audience) that Violet’s husband is actually a wealthy American named Hector Malone. The issue is that Hector Malone’s father wishes him to marry a girl from a well to do and very successful family, but Violet is not from this type of upscale family. As a result, Violet persuades Hector to keep their marriage a secret so he will not lose his wealth because he did not marry the type of woman his father wanted him to marry.

In Act III, John Tanner flees his predicament (Ann’s pursuit of him) by traveling to Europe. There, he is kidnapped by a group of plundering pirates. He falls asleep and has an extensive dream in which he becomes Don Juan, sent to hell. In the underworld, Don Juan has a discussion with his beloved Dona Ana de Ulloa (Ann Whitefield), a Statue (Roebuck Ramsden), and the Devil. They talk about the universal questions relating to men, women, love, and marriage. Through the dream, the playwright airs his views on existence and evolution, using such ideas as that of a Life Force and the Nietzchean vision of Superman. In this theory, women are the chief instruments of nature, and men are used by women to fulfill their destinies. The Life Force that sustains existence would cease were it not for this cycle. “Superman” is the concept of man continually improving himself in each successive generation. Don Juan finally leaves hell, since he believes he has work to do in the world. The Devil tells Ann that Superman does not exist. She leaves in pursuit of a father to help her give birth to Superman. At the end of the act, Tanner wakes up to find that Ann has found and rescued him.
In Act II, John Tanner’s car is broken down. Ann manipulates the situation so she can ride with him. He tells his chauffeur he feels sorry for Octavius, saying Ann is playing with him in her ruthless pursuit. His chauffeur tells him it is he, not Octavius, who is the true goal of Miss Whitefield.

In the final act, Violet and Hector reveal their secret marriage, and Violet manipulates Hector’s father into continued financial support. Tanner is unable to disarm Ann’s charm, and she succeeds in persuading him to marry her, choosing him over her more persistent suitor, Octavius Robinson. Thus, John Tanner ultimately gives in to the inevitability of marriage and agrees to wed Ann.