How does George Bernard Shaw use the characters in his play Arms and the Man to voice his opinion on various matters?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Bernard Shaw was a well-known satirist whose work oft-times ridiculed the pretentiousness of the upper classes. Arms and the Man is a case in point. Arms and the Man not only satirizes the snobbishness and superficial nature of society's elite, but also points an accusing finger at the futility and waste of war. In his play Major Barbara, Shaw indicts not just those who cause wars, but those who profit from them as well. Arms and the Man tells the somewhat convoluted story (many successful satires involve complicated storylines, including complex webs of interacting characters) of a wealthy Bulgarian family. The family's patriarch is an officer in that nation's army, and his daughter, Raina, conceals in her bedroom a Swiss soldier fighting in the Serbian army. Meanwhile, Raina's fiancé, Sergius, is also an officer in the Bulgarian army and serves in the same regiment as Raina's father. Sergius attempts to cheat on Raina with the family's maid, Louka, who displays her own sense of elitism by denying the amorous attentions of another servant, believing the latter to be beneath her. That servant, Nicola, is exceedingly deferential to his employers, accepting his "inferior" status in society--a notion summarily rejected by the younger, more rebellious Louka. Note, for instance, Nicola's warning to the young, beautiful servant whose attention he hopes to attract:

Be warned in time, Louka: mend your manners.
I know the mistress. She is so grand that she never
dreams that any servant could dare to be disrespectful to
her.

This type of class-struggle is the overriding theme of Shaw's play, and it runs throughout Arms and the Man. Shaw's characters represent myriad perspectives on the matter of class. The Swiss soldier, Captain Bluntschli, is initially looked down upon by the upper-class Raina. It is only after he reveals that he has inherited a chain of hotels and is now, consequently, upper-class himself that he becomes worthy of inclusion in the Petkoff family. This class consciousness, combined with the playwright's comments on the futility of war, make his play a typical "Shaw" presentation.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw, like many of Shaw's works, is a strongly polemical play. Shaw uses several different techniques to express his own opinions in the play.

First, Shaw not only writes extensive prefaces to all his plays, but is striking in providing extremely long and detailed stage directions that are so elaborate as to often function as a sort of running commentary about the play and its characters.

Next, Shaw uses Captain Bluntschli as a mouthpiece to express his own views. Raina initially expresses the traditionally romantic views about war that Shaw is criticizing, but is somewhat skeptical and uncertain about them in the beginning. Gradually, over the course of the play, she is converted to Captain Bluntschli's viewpoint.

Finally, the action of the play and interaction of the characters provides evidence for Shaw's favored viewpoints, with Petkoff and Sergius at the same time promulgating romantic views of war and demonstrating how under that romantic rhetoric lies overarching ignorance of the practicalities of military tactics.