How is Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw a satire on attitudes that glorify war and love?

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw is set during the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885. In the opening scene, we discover Raina, the female romantic lead of the play, discussing her fiancé, Sergius, who is a soldier fighting in the war. Her views of both Sergius and the war are, as she admits, based on opera, Byron, and Pushkin, works of art rather than the actual reality of fighting. Even before the entrance of Captain Bluntschli, she displays a degree of doubt about whether her ideals are really just products of her own imagination.

The satiric element is mainly provided by situational irony and the comments of Captain Bluntschli, the pragmatic Swiss mercenary who shows that, indeed, the romantic imagery of epic tales, when applied to the actual conduct of a real war, is just silly. While Raina finds the idea of a cavalry charge thrilling, the professional soldier sees riding horses into a machine gun nest as simply absurd and debunks the idea of the man leading a cavalry charge as brave by suggesting that he is in the front because his horse is running away with him, making him an incompetent rider.

The contrast between the reality of war and the romantic image of it is paralleled by a similar duality in the portrait of love, where Raina's infatuation with Sergius is shown to be as little grounded in reality as her image of him as a warrior. It is this dual incongruity, highlighted by the blunt speaking of Captain Bluntschli, that is the basis of the satire.