George Bernard Shaw was a satirist of the highest order, perhaps one of the greatest in modern history. And he was a cynic, imbued with a less-than-hospitable perception of the artifice and arrogance characteristic of Britain’s upper classes, the common target of his satirical barbs. In his anti-war play Arms and the Man, the family at the center of the story, the Petkoffs, are not necessarily rich, but they are financially-comfortable with aspirations of eventual acceptance into the ranks of the aristocracy. In his introductory comments, Shaw describes the family matriarch, Catherine, as an attractive woman who “might be a very splendid specimen of the wife of a mountain farmer, but is determined to be a Viennese lady.” It is clear, however, that this is a family of fortune relative to many in the Balkans region in which they live.
The Petkoffs are financially-comfortable, and do seek to associate themselves with society’s upper classes, and Shaw’s characters are replete with the kind of exaggerated pretensions that he loved to satirize, albeit, usually in the Victorian culture of his own life. As such, the initial encounter between Raina and the intruder who will be introduced as Captain Bluntschli, a Swiss officer serving in the Serbian Army, is typical of the author’s style of writing. As Raina, alone in her room, ponders her future with Sergius, she is startled by the intrusion, a reaction specified in Shaw’s directions. Note in the following passage the playwright’s description of this scene, in which “the man” who will be introduced as Bluntschli first observes the woman in whose room he has hidden. Note also, though, how quickly Raina regains her composure and confronts the stranger in her midst:
(He reckons up what he can guess about Raina—her age, her social position, her character, the extent to which she is frightened—at a glance, and continues, more politely but still most determinedly) Excuse my disturbing you; but you recognise my uniform—Servian. If I'm caught I shall be killed. (Determinedly.) Do you understand that?
MAN. Well, I don't intend to get killed if I can help it. (Still more determinedly.) Do you understand that? (He locks the door with a snap.)
RAINA (disdainfully). I suppose not. (She draws herself up superbly, and looks him straight in the face, saying with emphasis) Some soldiers, I know, are afraid of death.
MAN (with grim goodhumor). All of them, dear lady, all of them, believe me. It is our duty to live as long as we can, and kill as many of the enemy as we can. Now if you raise an alarm—
RAINA (cutting him short). You will shoot me. How do you know that I am afraid to die?
MAN (cunningly). Ah; but suppose I don't shoot you, what will happen then? Why, a lot of your cavalry—the greatest blackguards in your army—will burst into this pretty room of yours and slaughter me here like a pig; for I'll fight like a demon: they shan't get me into the street to amuse themselves with: I know what they are. Are you prepared to receive that sort of company in your present undress? (Raina, suddenly conscious of her nightgown, instinctively shrinks and gathers it more closely about her. He watches her, and adds, pitilessly) It's rather scanty, eh? (She turns to the ottoman. He raises his pistol instantly, and cries) Stop! (She stops.) Where are you going?
RAINA (with dignified patience). Only to get my cloak.
MAN (darting to the ottoman and snatching the cloak). A good idea. No: I'll keep the cloak: and you will take care that nobody comes in and sees you without it. This is a better weapon than the pistol. (He throws the pistol down on the ottoman.)
RAINA (revolted). It is not the weapon of a gentleman!
While the sight of the intruder initially, and understandably, startles Raina, she quickly regains her composure and, just as quickly, the upper hand. While Bluntschli obviously has an advantage in that he is a trained soldier armed with a pistol, he is no match for the confident to the point of arrogant Raina. Indeed, her sense of modesty, clothed only a nightgown, appears to be her main point of vulnerability. Beyond that, she is an immediate mental match for the foreign military officer in her bedroom, and she understands that she holds more cards in her hand than does the interloper. Bluntschli is a deserter and, as such, hunted by his own army as well as by that of the enemy he is supposed to stalk. He knows that he is in a precarious position, and Raina quickly comes also to understand that his predicament works to her advantage. Note Shaw’s stage instructions prefacing each of Raina’s comments: “disdainfully,” “cutting him short,” “with dignified patience,” “revolted.” Raina is too self-absorbed and insufficiently endowed with a true sense of situational awareness to be as frightened as one should expect. In short, she is not impressed by Captain Bluntschli. She is, however, curious.