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A satire is a work that uses humour, irony, or wit to show up the failings and pretensions of individuals, insititutions or ideas. This play satirises conventional notions of war as being a heroic and honourable affair, and the idea that the lot of soldiers is a glorious, elevated one. The play also targets idealised notions of romantic love. Both these subjects - love and war - had been portrayed in an idealised, sentimental light in many late-nineteenth century melodramas. Shaw aimed to debunk such notions, although in not quite as savage a manner as, say, that of First World War poets like Wilfred Owen.
Raina, the heroine, has to shed her romantic view of love and war, shared by Sergius, her fiance; she eventually settles for the practical-minded Bluntschli. Bluntschli (perhaps his name is a play on the idea of being 'blunt', of telling it like it is) is a soldier, but not much in the traditional heroic, courageous mould; he is a mercenary who at the beginning of the play is running away, he keeps chocolate in his belt instead of ammunition, he sees through romantic pretensions. Sergius, however, cannot give up such ideals so readily, and at one point is driven to openly express his dismay at the gulf between reality and idealism:
Oh, war! War! The dream of patriots and heroes! A fraud, Bluntschli, a hollow sham. (Act III)
However Sergius's dismay is not allowed to turn into hopeless disillusionment; there is a happy ending for the major characters. The play remains within the bounds of largely comic satire; it is not allowed to turn to tragedy.
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