Analysis of Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw
"Arms and the Man" starts with gunfire on a dark street in a small town. The romantic and willful Raina is about to begin her true-life adventure by sheltering the handsome fugitive Bluntschli, enemy of her equally handsome fiancé Sergius
The setting of the play is in war-torn Bulgaria, and focuses not only on the romance between the young people of the play, but the atrocities that go on during war times and the ability of people not so very far removed from these atrocities to ignore them completely.
Shaw's purpose in this play is to attack the romantic notion of war by presenting a more realistic depiction of war, devoid of the idea that such death and destruction are both noble and romantic. These deconstructions make "Arms and the Man" a satirical comedy about those who would glorify the horrors or war.
Shaw develops a perfectly ironic contrast between the two central male characters form the beginning to the end. At the start of the play we are given an account of Major Sergius Saranoff’s, a handsome young Bulgarian officer, victory in a daring cavalry raid, which turned the war in favor of the Bulgarians over the Serbs. In contrast, Captain Bluntschil, a professional soldier from Switzerland, acts like a coward. He climbs up to a balcony to escape capture, he threatens a woman with a gun, and he carries chocolates rather than cartridges because he claims the sweets are more useful on the battlefield.
In the eyes of our true main character Raina Petkoff, the young romantic idealist who has bought into the stories of battlefield heroism, Saranoff is her ideal hero. However, as the play proceeds, we learn more about this raid and that despite its success, it should have failed. Eventually Saranoff is going to end up dead if he continues to engage in such ridiculous heroics. Meanwhile, we realize that Bluntshcil has no misconceptions about the stupidity of war and that his actions have kept him alive.
Over the course of the play, Raina loses this romantic ideal in favor of a far more accurate version that allows her to find true love. Sergius goes through a similar transformation, realizing that there must be more to himself than the two dimensional ideal of the soldier that young ladies seem to worship.
Shaw gives the subtitle “An Anti-Romantic Comedy” to Arms and the Man and it is clear that his aim is to use the conventions of romantic comedy to subvert. In the first act – ideals associated with war, such as heroic actions and patriotic self-sacrifice, are presented to...