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Shavian drama primarily deals with ideas, using characters as spokespersons and dialogues/situations as polemical. Arms and the Man is a celebrated example of the Shavian drama of ideas. The play aims to satirize the long-cherished conventions of love and romance on the one hand, and those of soldiering and heroism on the other. The victorious Bulgarian cavalry-charge led by Sergius Saranoff against the Serbian artillery at the battle of Slivnitza which makes him "the hero of Slivnitza" is actually a gross act of romantic adventurism. Sergius's heroism makes Raina, his betrothed Petkoff daughter, and her mother instantly ecstatic, but Sergius fails to get promoted in the army because his act of adventurism is rightly looked upon as a piece of amateurish idiocy. The Shavian protagonist in the play, Bluntschli, who enters Raina's bed-chamber secretly, explains Sergius's ludicrous suicidal bid to the young romantic girl who gathers from the professional soldier what the realities of war actually are. Raina's "soul's hero" Sergius and the fugitive Serbian artillery-man, Bluntschli, are a pair of contrasted characters to highlight the conflict of the two ideas/attitudes to war, heroism, soldiering and patriotism. Sergius, Raina, Major Petkoff and Catherine are all men and women inclined to the conventional ideas of heroism, adventurism and patriotism. Bluntschli serves as a typical Shavian ideologue to argue his way in his characteristic serio-comical manner to lead the entire romantic-sentimental host to disillusionment. Raina gradually discovers that Sergius is as much an adventurist in the domain of soldiering as he is a hypocrite in the domain of love. He is found as making secret overtures to the Petkoff house-maid, Louka, behind Raina's back. Louka, an example of a new woman, is very clever and ambitious to trap Sergius in love and marriage. At the end of the play, Raina righly chooses to marry her "chocolate-cream soldier" Bluntschli, and rejects the foolishly and falsely romantic Sergius Saranoff. The play can also be seen as a problem play on the Ibsenian model. The play presents, analyzes and sarcastically exposes the problems relating to love, relationships and marriage, problems relating to patriotism, heroism and soldiering. Characters represent contrary and confronting ideas; dialogues and situations underscore the problems and the conflicting trajectories. The whole play does have a strong purpose of criticism and reformation.
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