Discuss Arms and the Man as dramatic satire.
This play functions as a satire with two primary focus subjects: war and love. Throughout the text, Shaw satirizes the romantic notions of war that glorify such a terrible event. We are being presented with a soldier who has escaped from a horrific battle after three days of being under fire. He is exhausted, starving, and being pursued. Such is the experience of a real soldier. However, Shaw's deft use of satire provides an almost comic take on the situation. Later however, he provides a grisly description of a death: there is nothing comic or heroic about being shot in the hip and then burned. When Raina expresses horror at the story, Sergius replies, “And how ridiculous! Oh, war! War! The dream of patriots and heroes! A fraud, Bluntschli, a hollow sham.” This is where Shaw's true beliefs come through. Critics lampooned his idea, saying he was distracting from a glorious profession, and that a soldier preferring food to cartridges in his belt was ridiculous. In the introduction to Plays: Pleasant and Unpleasant, Shaw responded to this by saying that all he had to do was introduce any doubters to the first six real soldiers they came across, and his stage soldier would prove authentic. It is also noteworthy that Catherine is dissatisfied with a peace treaty because, in her unrealistic vision of glorious war, there is supposed to be a crushing rout of the enemy followed by celebrations of a heroic victory. Shaw’s message here is that there can be peaceful alternatives to perpetual fighting. He was dedicated throughout his life to curbing violence, especially that of wars, and Arms and the Man was one of the vehicles he used to plead his case.
The other target of Shaw's satire is the romantic notion of love. He recognized that playing the game of flirtation differed from serious love, and he tried to convey this idea in Arms and the Man, which is subtitled “An Anti-Romantic Comedy.” In the play, Raina and Sergius have come together for all the wrong reasons: because their social status requires a partner from the same social level, and they both play the role they have been taught to expect from the opposite sex. The problem is that neither is portraying his/her real self, so their love is based on outward appearances, not on the true person beneath the facade. They are both acting out a romance according to their idealized standards for courtship rather than according to their innermost feelings. When Bluntschli and Louka force Raina and Sergius to examine their true feelings, Raina and Sergius discover that they have the courage and desire to follow their hearts instead of seeking to meet social expectations.