Arms and the Man Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Raina is in her bedroom on the second floor of the Petkoff house in a small town in Bulgaria when her mother enters to tell her that Sergius has just led the Bulgarians to victory in battle with the Serbs. Raina rejoices; her idealistic expectations of war and soldiers are met. Louka enters to tell them that the army orders them to lock all the doors and windows while enemy stragglers are being pursued. Catherine and Louka leave. Shots are heard outside and a man stumbles into the room. He is a Serbian artillery officer, exhausted, nervous, and hungry. When soldiers appear at the door, demanding to search the room, Raina on impulse hides the man and tells them no one else is there.

Raina and the man talk. She expresses her contempt for his being a coward and for his stuffing his pockets with chocolate instead of ammunition. He tries to explain to her the realities of battle and identifies her portrait of Sergius as the man who led the charge that won the battle; the Bulgarians won only because the Serbians had the wrong-size ammunition. The man describes Sergius as a romantic fool who won by doing the professionally wrong thing. Raina objects strongly to this, but when the man decides to leave, Raina says she will save him and goes in search of her mother; they return to find him fast asleep on the bed.

Four months later, Nicola and Louka are arguing in the Petkoffs’ garden. Nicola wants Louka to be more polite to the Petkoffs because he intends to set up a shop and is counting on the Petkoffs as his principal customers. Major Petkoff returns from the war and is greeted by his wife, Catherine. Sergius is shown in. Bitter because the army refuses to promote him, he declares his intention to resign. Sergius and Petkoff speak of a tale they heard of a Swiss officer being rescued by two Bulgarian women. At this point, Raina leaves, and when Louka enters, Sergius attempts to flirt with her. Louka tells him that she knows a secret about Raina and a strange man. When they are alone, Raina and Catherine discuss the Swiss soldier. Raina leaves and Louka announces a Captain Bluntschli, who comes to return a coat Raina and Catherine loaned him. Catherine begs him not to reveal who helped him. Petkoff appears and asks Bluntschli to stay to help with some transportation matters. When Raina enters, she manages to cover up her surprise at seeing Bluntschli.

After lunch that day, Petkoff and Sergius are in the library, writing orders for troop movements. Petkoff wants his comfortable old coat and Catherine says it is in the closet (where she put it after getting it back from Bluntschli). Nicola returns with the coat and all leave except Raina and Bluntschli, who discuss lies, gratitude, and the differences between practicality and the false ideals of romanticism. Bluntschli sees through her pretense of noble ideals and Raina admits that he found her out. Raina tells Bluntschli that she put a photograph of herself in the pocket of the coat, but Bluntschli never found it. He receives mail that was collected for him, among which is the news that his father is dead and left him a number of big hotels.

In a discussion between Louka and Nicola, Nicola suggests that it would be best if Louka and Sergius marry and become his valued customers. Sergius enters and, after Nicola leaves, flirts again with Louka; he is still disillusioned about life and by his own inability to measure up to his ideals. Louka tells him that Raina is sure to marry Bluntschli, so when Bluntschli enters, Sergius challenges him to a duel. Bluntschli agrees and, being a practical man, chooses machine guns. Raina enters and wants to know why they are going to fight; she suspects what has been going on with Louka and has become disenchanted with Sergius, who concludes that life is a farce and that there is now no need for a duel. Raina says that Sergius should fight Nicola, since he is Louka’s fiancé, information that disillusions Sergius even more.

When Petkoff enters and wants his coat again, Raina helps her father put it on and takes the opportunity to slip the photograph out of the pocket. Her father already found the picture, however, and wants to know the meaning of the inscription, “Raina, to her Chocolate Cream Soldier: a Souvenir.” Thereupon, Bluntschli reveals that he is the chocolate cream soldier; Louka and Sergius become engaged; and Bluntschli laments that despite his practicality he always had a romantic streak—he returned the coat in person, hoping to see Raina again. When he discovers that Raina is really twenty-three, not seventeen, as he supposed, he proposes to her and is accepted. As Bluntschli leaves, Sergius supplies the final comment: “What a man! Is he a man!”

Arms and the Man Extended Summary

Act 1

It is November 1885, during the Serbo-Bulgarian War. Raina Petkoff, a young Bulgarian woman, is in her bedchamber when her mother, Catherine, enters and announces there has been a battle close by and that Raina’s fiancé, Major Sergius Saranoff, was the hero of a cavalry charge. The women rejoice that Sergius has proven to be as heroic as they expected, but they soon turn to securing the house because of fighting in the streets. Nonetheless, a Serbian officer gains entry through Raina’s shutters. Raina decides to hide him and she denies having seen anyone when she is questioned by a Russian officer who is hunting for a man seen climbing the water pipe to Raina’s balcony. Raina covers well, and the Russian leaves without noticing the pistol on Raina’s bed.

When Raina hands the gun to the Serbian after the Russian leaves, the Serbian admits that the gun is not loaded because he carries chocolates in his cartridge belt instead of ammunition. He explains that he is a Swiss mercenary fighting for the Serbs because it is his profession to be a soldier and the Serbian war was close by. He adds that old, experienced soldiers carry food while only the young soldiers carry weapons. Shocked by this attitude, Raina criticizes him for being a poor soldier. He counters by describing what makes a real fool, not knowing that his version of the day’s cavalry charge makes fun of her betrothed. She is incensed but agrees to let him stay once he impresses upon her the danger of going back out into the street. She tries to impress him with her family’s wealth and position, saying that they have the nobility to give refuge to an enemy. He pledges her safety and advises her to tell her mother about his presence, to keep matters proper. While she is gone, he falls into a deep sleep on her bed and he cannot be roused by a shocked Catherine. Raina takes pity on him and asks that they let him sleep.

Act 2

On March 6, 1886, Raina’s father, Major Paul Petkoff, comes home and announces the end of the war. Catherine is upset that the Serbians have agreed to a peace treaty, believing that her side should have a glorious victory. Major Saranoff arrives just after Petkoff makes comments indicating that Saranoff is not a talented military leader. Catherine praises Saranoff, but he announces that he is resigning from the army. Raina joins the conversation just before the discussion turns to a Swiss officer who bested the men in a horse trade and who had been, according to a friend’s story, rescued by two Bulgarian ladies after a battle. Catherine and Raina pretend to be shocked by such unpatriotic behavior.

Catherine and Major Petkoff leave the two young people to have some time to alone. Raina and Sergius exchange all the silly platitudes expected of lovers about how much...

(The entire section is 1164 words.)