Arms and the Man Questions and Answers
by George Bernard Shaw

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Discuss the theme of marriage in Arms and the Man.

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Shaw's play The Arms and the Man is a comedy that uses humor to present a serious critique of romantic views of marriage and warfare. The opening of the play presents the conventional ideology of the period, in which Raina and her mother think of both love and war in terms of the conventions of Victorian melodrama. Shaw undermines both the literary conventions of melodrama and the gender ideology underlying it with the intrusion of Bluntschli.

Unlike the handsome, dashing Sergius, Bluntschli is a pragmatic, middle-aged mercenary. Unlike in a conventional melodrama, where the heroine Raina would marry the romantic hero Sergius, instead Shaw reveals that this conventional marriage would be a bad idea because it is based on romantic illusion rather than enduring understanding and compatibility. Similarly, Nicola and Louka would be a conventional pairing of two servants. Instead, what we discover is that Sergius and Louka are genuinely compatible, Nicola prefers to be a successful shopkeeper to marrying Louka, and Bluntschli is the best match for Raina.

This suggests that we should abandon class prejudice and romantic ideals in thinking about marriage and instead favor either intellectual and emotional compatibility or practical motivations in choosing partners. 

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Susan Smith eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Shaw's play Arms and the Man is a romantic comedy that satirizes idealized notions of love and war.  At the beginning of the play, Raina is betrothed to Sergius--a soldier in the Bulgarian army.  He is handsome, well-to-do, upper class--all that Raina's family expects her husband to be.

However, it is Bluntschli, the mercenary soldier who hides in her room, that convinces her that not only are Raina's ideas of war unrealistic and impractical, but also her ideas of love are false.  Raina falls for the more practical, experienced Bluntschli.  Raina's love for Bluntschli portrays Shaw's idea of class distinctions.  In matters of love, social class should not be a factor.  At the end of the play, Sergia is to marry Louka, Raina's servant.  Again, Shaw emphasizes that it is important to follow one's heart in matters of love, not social or familial expectations.


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