Are the following lines from George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man idealistic or realistic? "Ugh! But I don't believe the first man is a coward. I know he is a hero!" "And don't be so ready to...

Are the following lines from George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man idealistic or realistic?

"Ugh! But I don't believe the first man is a coward. I know he is a hero!"

"And don't be so ready to defy everybody. Act as if you expected to have your own way, not as if you expected to be ordered about. The way to get on as a lady is the same as the way to get on as a servant: you've got to know your place; that's the secret of it."

Asked on by nielandre

2 Answers

amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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These lines are from George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man. The first line is from the first act. Raina is defending Sergius, her future husband. She has a romanticized, idealist notion of Sergius as a hero even though he is described as a foolish, quixotic fighter. This is an idealist sentiment and it results partially from a glorification of war. 

The second line is spoken by Nicola in the third act and it is decidedly realistic. He is trying to tell Louka to accept the fact that social classes and positions are set in stone. Louka is an idealist and does not believe that upward mobility is impossible. Nicola, out of fear and out of realistic and defeatist acceptance of social "realities," advises her to know her place. Earlier in Act III, Louka notes the difference between herself and Nicola. "You were born to be a servant. I was not." 

Louka is an idealist. Nicola is a realist. 

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The subtitle to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man is "An Anti-Romantic Comedy in Three Acts." Shaw, a noted satirist and harsh critic of the social mores prevalent among upper-class society, set this particular play in Bulgaria, with the backdrop being war between that Balkan nation and another, Serbia. Setting aside, the basic themes of Shaw's play are consistent with those of his other works. Like many satirists who commented on the societies in which they lived, Shaw presents characters with differing perspectives on their status and that of those who labor for their benefit. Which brings us back to that subtitle. The main protagonist in Arms and the Man is Raina, the wealthy, undoubtedly spoiled daughter of Bulgarian aristocracy whose fiancé, Sergius, is considered a hero of the war despite Raina's earlier doubts regarding his bravery and stature. Upon being castigated by her mother, Catherine, for daring to question the character of such a heroic figure, Raina responds with the following:

"Oh, to think that it was all true that Sergius is just as splendid and noble as he looks, that the world is really a glorious world for women who can see its glory and men who can act its romance! What happiness!"

The first quote cited in the question occurs within the context of Raina's initial encounter with "the man," the Swiss Army officer who has fled the fighting by taking cover in Raina's bedroom. As the two debate the merits of combat, with the professional soldier clearly less enamored of the brutality of actual fighting than the sheltered, naive civilian, Raina comments upon the stranger's denunciation of the wisdom of being the first to rush into battle, prompting Raina's reply: "Ugh! But I don't believe the first man is a coward. I believe he is a hero!"

As the dialogues between Raina and her mother and Raina and "the man" illustrate, Shaw's protagonist is entirely idealistic, completely ignorant of the realities of the world in which she lives. As noted, Raina has led a sheltered existence, enjoying the advantages of the aristocracy without experiencing the trials that characterize the lives of the less fortunate. Her quote is very much idealistic.

The second quote occurs in the context of an ongoing dialogue between Louka, the young, female servant, and Nicola, the older, more senior member of the household staff. Nicola, throughout the play, seeks to educate his younger colleague on the realities of the world--realities steeped in class structure and sexist attitudes towards the role of women in society. Louka and Nicola's relationship will, of course, be run aground as Shaw's play reaches its finale, but Nicola's advice to Louka is realistic given his experiences in the world. Advising Louka to know her place as a key to success is the kind of antiquated perspective that is, today, treated for what it is: prejudicial, condescending, and wrong. The history of relationships between the two main genders dictated that the female servant recognize her place in the pecking order and act accordingly. It was realistic, unfortunately.

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