Shaw's 'problem play', Candida, deals with 'The Woman Question' in so far as it is a play about the issue of freedom of a domestic woman who is at the centre of the dramatic discourse. Candida is a very beautiful and seductive woman. She can charm men and usually gets what she wants. She is clever and independent who manipulates situations and people to suite her goals. She uses her intelligence to get people to do her bidding.
Her very name, Candida, suggests openness/frankness of her mind. She is a middle aged home-maker, the wife of a socialist clergyman, James Mavor Morell. Morell enjoys popularity and fame as a public speaker and a social reformist, but he is absolutely dependent on Candida who has to protect and help her husband out. There comes a young poet, Eugene Marchbanks, who informs Candida about another world, a world of poetry and imagination beyond the routine of domesticity. Morell becomes suspect of a 'calf love' between the poet and his devoted wife. He feels scared because his stable status of a successful husband depends a lot on Candida's self-sacrifice in the role of a wife. Morell has always believed himself as strong, though his strength is a false impression born of a patriarchal mindset. The climax is reached in the 'auction scene' at the end of the play. Candida places herself at an auction before her husband and her young lover. Morell offers her all that relates to the so-called social-domestic status of a woman, whereas Marchbanks offers her all that relates to passion and imagination. Candida chooses 'the weaker of the two', her husband.
Shaw’s characterization of Candida is complicated. She takes the conventional role of a woman as a homemaker, but she also embraces feminist ideals about marriage and liberated sexuality. The character of Candida focuses on ideals that women need to emancipate from the oppressions disguised in forms of love and marriage. Shaw questions the assumption of conventional women roles of a good daughter, wife and mother for the family presumed as the ultimate goal for women in return of love and protection from their husbands. The devotion and sacrifice of women to their domestic lives are considered inferior compared to the power of husband as a provider of social status and economic support for the family. In Candida, the audience sees the assumption of women trapped in domesticity presented differently by the heroine’s reversed standpoint. Candida, an embodiment of Shaw’s feminism, undermines the Christian socialist and Romantic ideals of women to introduce a new ideal of womanliness. Women are no longer considered as inferior or trapped in domestic lives, but a wife who takes the role of true provider of affection and support for her husband.
Morell idealizes Candida to the traditional female role of an “angel in the house”. His appreciation of Candida’s “goodness” and “purity” as a good wife and mother uncovers his false assumption that she happy with domestic life because he provides her a home and protection. A different notion about ideal woman is presented by Eugene Marchbanks, Candida’s young admirer who stands for Romanticism. Marchbanks misunderstands Candida’s mothering for him as her liberated passion for romance. Despite their difference, both Morell and Marchbanks illustrate the same notion of woman as a weaker sex. But, Candida turns out to be an active Shavian female character who is capable to speak her thoughts against convention.
Shaw uses a trite love-triangle only to turn it upside down in his characteristic iconoclastic (criticizing or attacking cherished beliefs or institutions) manner. The woman in this three-some relationship comes out triumphant: she neither leaves her husband to go with her lover; nor does she apologise for her mistake to stay back; nor is she driven out by her husband. A radical feminist shall never be happy with this Shavian resolution, for Candida is still not liberated from domestic servility. But Shaw's Candida must be a very different woman who has realised and registered her clear control and supremacy over her husband. Now on, Morell has to live as 'the weaker' of the two.