Arms and the Man Analysis and Summary: George Bernard Shaw
Read below our detailed notes on the play “Arms and the Man” by George Bernard Shaw. Our notes cover Arms and the Man analysis, summary, introduction, themes, and characters.
Arms and the Man Introduction:
Arms and the Man is a famous comedy written by George Bernard Shaw. This play was produced on April 21st, 1894 and was first published in 1898 in Shaw’s collection of plays: “Pleasant and Unpleasant” Volume.
It is a humorous play and a social satire that presents a realistic account of war and shows how foolish it is to idealize war as something noble. It is also a satire on romantic and unrealistic notions of love.
The title of the play comes from the opening words of Virgil’s Aeneid, the Roman epic which glorifies war and heroic deeds of those who participate in war. So the title should be looked at ironically as the play is a satire on foolishness of glorifying something as terrible as war.
Arms and the Man Summary:
The play is set in Bulgaria in 1885, during the Serbo-Bulgarian War. Raina, a rich Bulgarian woman, receives good news from her mother, Catherine, that Bulgarian forces have won the battle against Serbs. Catherine adds that Sergius, Raina’s fiancé whom she idealizes as a hero, has appeared as a brave hero in the war and was at the head of the charge.
Meanwhile, Louka, their servant, enters the room and warns them to keep the windows and doors locked because escaped Serbian soldiers are seeking refuge in the houses of Bulgarians. Raina does not pay any heed to her words and chooses to keep her window unlocked.
In the night, a man named Bluntschli, enters her room through the unlocked window and warns her that he will kill her if she makes any noise. The man is a Swiss and an escaped Serbian officer. Raina lets her hide in her room and gets surprised when she sees that he was not glorying war rather he was happy because he has escaped the battlefield alive. Raina gives her chocolate creams and criticizes him for keeping chocolates in his pockets instead of ammunition.
Moreover, the man tells her that Sergius is a romantic fool who has won the battle not because of his bravery but just because Serbian Army had wrong ammunition. Raina objects it but when the man decides to leave, she tries to save him and goes in search of her mother. When Raina and Catherine come back, they find him asleep. After that they both help him escape with Major Petkoff’s old coat.
After a few months, Louka and Nicola, her fiancé and a male servant of Petkoff house, are having a conversation in which Louka tells him that she knows many secrets of Petkoff family and she will use all the secrets against them. Nicola replies that he knows many of the secrets as well but he will never blackmail his masters.
Subsequently, Sergius Saranoff and Major Petkoff come back home and are warmly welcomed by everyone, especially Raina who still considers him a hero. They tell a story about an escaped Serbian Officer being hidden by two Bulgarian women. After hearing this, both mother and daughter realize that the story is about them but do not utter anything. Sergius starts flirting with Louka. She tells him that Raina does not really love him and she is not faithful towards their relationship.
Afterwards, Captain Bluntschli comes back to return Major Petkoff’s coat and Catherine realizes that he is the same man that she and Raina helped escape. Raina becomes very happy after seeing him and bursts out with joy, “the chocolate cream soldier!” Sergius and Petkoff offer Bluntschli to stay and pass some time with them because they have already met him in the battle.
Towards the end of the play, all the tensions are exposed when Louka tells Sergius that Raina loves Bluntschli and she is not fully sincere with him. Raina and Bluntschli accept that they feel for each other. On the other hand, Louka and Sergius also reveal that they have been having a secret affair. Nicola releases Louka from their engagement after hearing it.
Furthermore, Major Petkoff and Catherine happily accept Bluntschli’s proposal for Raina because of the wealth he has inherited from his late father. Nicola is also hired by Bluntschli to run his hotels.
Arms and the Man Themes:
Following are the major themes in Arms and the Man.
The Reality of War:
This is the major theme of this play. The reality of war is unfolded by a character named Captain Bluntschli. However, all the other characters glorify war as something noble. The play opens with a romantic view of war held by Raina and Catherine. Both mother and daughter idealize war as something very noble and heroic. They consider Sergius as a brave hero because of his victory against Serbian Army.
The play unfolds the reality of war in a satirical way. Captain Bluntschli, a Serbian officer, explains this theme. He tells Raina about the reality of war and those soldiers who are considered as heroes. He is happy to escape the battle field alive and tells her that he keeps chocolates in his pockets instead of ammunition. His ideas about war strongly contrast the old feudal conception of Bulgarian Aristocrats. He believes that war is foolish and terrible.
Additionally, he tells her about Sergius that he has won the war not because of his bravery and intelligence but because of his good fortune. He adds that Sergius is a romantic fool not a hero.
Reality of Love:
This is also a major theme of the play. It is explored by many characters: Raina, Sergius and Louka. The play is a satire on romanticism and ideal love as well. Raina, the protagonist of the play, is a dramatic lady who idealizes love and war. She believes that she truly loves her fiancé but she does not actually love him rather she is in love with the idea of being in love. She immediately catches feelings for Bluntschli when she meets him for the first time. In the end, she accepts his proposal.
On the other hand, Sergius also claims to be in love with Raina but he is not entirely faithful with her. He starts flirting with Louka in spite of his engagement with Raina. In the end of the play, he discloses his affair with Louka.
Moreover, Louka also does not love her fiancé, Nicola. She desires to be a part of upper class so he lets Sergius flirt with her. In the end, when they reveal about their affair, Nicola releases her from their engagement.
It is also a major theme of this play. This theme is explored especially by the antagonist, Louka, who is a servant in Petkoff’s house. She wants to be a part of higher class and wants to get married into aristocracy. She starts an affair with Sergius despite her engagement with Nicola because of his social status. In the end, she fulfills her desire by marrying Sergius.
Shaw portrays that how lower class was underestimated by higher class in Bulgarian society. Major Petkoff, Catherine and Raina also show this discrimination between upper and lower class. Bluntschli is not considered as a gentleman because he belongs to middle class. But Raina and her parents immediately accept his proposal for Raina when they come to know about the hotels he has inherited from his father. He is considered as wealthy and a gentleman after that.
Arms and the Man Characters:
Raina is the heroine of the play. She is twenty-three years old young, beautiful and rich Bulgarian woman and the only daughter of Catherine and Major Petkoff. She glorifies war and claims to be an example of the “higher love”. She idealizes war as something noble and a sign of bravery. She is always found posing, dreaming or making a dramatic entrance.
She is engaged to Sergius and idealizes him as a hero. Her true nature reveals when she falls in love with Bluntschli immediately in spite of her relationship with Sergius. She does not appear as an evil person but a human with complex nature.
He is a thirty-four years old professional soldier who belongs to Switzerland and serves as a Captain in Serbian Army. He is a rational person who knows the stupidity of war and does not glorify it.
His first appearance in the play is as an escaped army officer who tries to hide in Raina’s room. He tells Raina about the reality of war and the soldiers. Raina falls in love with him despite the fact that he does not meet her standard of idealism.
In the end of the play, he expresses his love for Raina and Raina and her parents accept his proposal because of his wealth which he has inherited from his late father.
Sergius is an extremely handsome young Bulgarian officer who leads the attack on Serbs and wins the battle. He is considered as a hero because of this tremendous victory. He is engaged to Raina Petkoff who idealizes him as a brave hero all the time.
He appears as a loyal and faithful lover at first but his reality reveals when he starts flirting with the maid, Louka. He is a person of many personalities and not a constant lover.
Furthermore, according to Bluntschli, he is an unintelligent person and a romantic fool who has won the battle because of his good fortune not because of his bravery and heroism.
He is the head of Petkoff family, Raina’s father and Catherine’s husband. He also serves in the Bulgarian Army as a Captain but is an unread and materialistic person. He greatly cares about maintaining his social status and position in rural areas.
Additionally, he accepts Bluntschli as a good suitor of her daughter when he comes to know about his wealth and social standing which shows him as a materialistic person.
Catherine is Raina’s mother. She also follows the old-fashioned conception of war and glorifies the nobility of war like her daughter. She also cares about her social position and wants to marry off her daughter to a Rich gentleman. She chooses Sergius for her but changes her choice immediately when she finds how wealthy Bluntschli is. It shows her materialistic nature.
Louka is a female servant of Petkoff family. She is young and physically attractive and uses it to achieve her ambitions. She is engaged to Nicola, a head servant, but does not love him. She desires to be a part of upper class by marrying a noble.
She starts an affair with Sergius which shows her unfaithfulness and cunning nature. In the end, her desire to become wealthy fulfills when she marries Sergius.
Nicola is a middle-aged head servant of Petkoff family. He is engaged to Louka and is loyal to his masters. Louka criticizes him to be content and not trying to change his social position.
In the end of the play, he releases Louka from their engagement and lets her marry Sergius. Bluntschli admires him for his loyalty and hires him to look after his hotels.
Arms and the Man Analysis:
Given below is a brief Arms and the Man analysis:
The play is satire on the idealism of war and love. It opens with a young beautiful girl, Raina who glorifies the nobility of something as terrible as war. Her mother, Catherine does it as well. They both represent the conception of Bulgarian society of that time. They idealize war as something heroic despite the fact that war is nothing more than bloodshed. This play presents the real account of war.
Additionally, Sergius, who is considered as hero because of his victory against Serbs is revealed as a foolish and double-faced person. Bluntschli unfolds the reality of war and soldiers. He is the most rational person in the play who appears as a fool and coward at first. He accepts the reality of war and believes that war is foolish and dangerous.
Moreover, the reality of notions of love is also revealed by the characters. Raina, who claims to be in love, is actually in love with the idea of love not Sergius. She falls in love with Bluntschli in the first meet up. On the other hand, Sergius is also seen calling his love for Raina as the “higher love” but deep inside, he is not sincere with her. It shows the uncertainty of one’s own emotions and disloyalty of people.
The play also portrays the materialism in the society, social discrimination and class struggle of the lower class. Bluntschli is not considered as a gentleman when he belongs to middle class but as he inherits the wealth from his father, his worth in Petkoff family’s eye increases. It shows materialism and class discrimination.
The class struggle is also seen through the character of Louka, who is ambitious about changing her social position and at last she achieves it by marrying Sergius.
The play does not only depict the Bulgarian society of that time but reflects the norms of today’s society as well. All these elements can be seen in modern society. Though, the conception of majority about war has been changed but class discrimination, materialism and class struggle are still present.