Man and Superman is a battle-of-the-sexes comedy by George Bernard Shaw. Set in turn-of-the-century England, the play pokes fun of Britain's various social classes, and casts a satirical gaze at romantic relationships and the institution of marriage. Act One of Man and Superman establishes the main characters: the independent, rebellious bachelor, John Tanner (AKA Jack) and the attractive, intelligent, and scheming Ann Whitefield (who plans to ensnare Jack into matrimony).
Plot Summary of Act Two:
Act Two of Man and Superman takes place in the park of a country home near Richmond, England. Jack's chauffeur, Straker, is trying to fix a mechanical problem. Jack Tanner's car is a newfangled device that frightens him because of its incredible speed (but keep in mind, since this is the early 1900s, the vehicle probably cannot get past 40 mph).
Jack's friend Octavius ("Tavy" for short) enters the scene. Jack introduces his chaffeur, claiming that Straker represents the "New Man." Unlike those who attend universities such as Oxford where one learns to be a gentleman, Straker prides educational background of boarding schools and technical colleges. Straker can also be considered a "New Man" (meaning: an individual who represents a positive advance in the human race) because he is more insightful than the intellectual Jack Tanner. For example, Straker sees that Ann Whitefield is obviously pursuing Tanner with romantic fervor. But Tanner is clueless until Straker finally spells it out for him at the end of Act Two.
Tavy loves Ann:
Tavy and Jack discuss the nature of Love. Tavy reaffirms his passionate devotion to Ann. Jack, as usual, pokes fun. He states that Jack does not understand because he has never been in love. Jack claims that he has always been in love (even with Ann) but he seems to be talking about a mild, perhaps platonic form of universal love -- because he argues that he will never let Love control his thoughts and actions. Then, Tavy gives Jack a note from Rhoda, Ann's younger sister.
Ann Wants Jack:
The note reveals that Ann has forbidden Rhoda to go on a motor ride with him. This infuriates Jack, but when he confronts Ann on the subject, she offers a different explanation. Ann claims that she has no moral qualms with Jack Tanner, but that her mother objects to the political manifesto written by Jack (The Revolutionist's Handbook).
This new information sends Jack into a "sociological rage" as he declares that adult children must cut ties with their parents to develop their own soul. Jack says that she could break her chains by defying her mother. He suggests that Ann could whisk away on a road trip across Europe. Much to his surprise, Ann accepts the invitation. He is now very nervous about the idea of being alone with her for an extended period of time.
Other characters enter the scene, halting Ann and Jack's conversation. In addition to Roebuck Ramsden and Ann's mother, a new character is introduced: Hector Malone. He is from the east coast of America and, according to Shaw, "not at all ashamed of his nationality." Ann explains that they are all going on the road trip to Nice, France.
Hector and Violet Are Secretly Married:
Hector offers to escort Tavy's sister Violet, but the group becomes embarrassed and explains that it would be inappropriate for Hector to ride alone with Violet. She has recently been married, and her husband's identity remains secret. Once Hector has a moment alone with Violet, their dialogue reveals that Hector is actually the secret husband! They have kept the marriage clandestine because Hector's wealthy father would strongly disapprove (and probably cut off his inheritance). Hector would rather expose the truth, but Violet is disgusted at the thought of her husband having to work for a living.
Jack Can't Handle the Truth:
As Jack and Straker return to the scene, Hector and Violet exit to discuss their upcoming cross-country trip. Jack suggests that during the trip they leave Ann and Tavy alone together to increase Tavy's romantic opportunities. Straker responds by mysteriously whistling.
When Jack insists that Straker explain why he is whistling so smugly, Straker finally explains what is painfully obvious to him but completely unseen by Jack: Ann is intent on marrying Jack Tanner.
Once Jack realizes that Ann is pursuing him romantically, he tells Straker to hop in their automobile. Jack plans to drive away as fast as he can to get as much distance between himself and his seductress, Ann Whitefield. Act Two ends with his desperately comical escape.
STRAKER: Why, it's as plain as the nose on your face. If you ain't spotted that, you don't know much about these sort of things. Excuse me, you know, Mr. Tanner; but you asked me as man to man; and I told you as man to man.
TANNER: Then I - I am the bee, the spider, the marked down victim, the destined prey.
STRAKER: I dunno about the bee and the spider. But the marked down victim, that's what you are and no mistake.