How is the theme of love explored in Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw?  

The theme of love is explored in Arms and the Man through the characters of Sergius, Raina, Bluntschli, and Louka. Characters in the play learn to abandon romantic fantasies of who they ought to be in love with in order to embrace their true love. Likewise, the play urges looking past the idea that war is glorious and romantic to understand its reality.

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The theme of love in George Bernard Shaw's play Arms and the Man is addressed in many ways.

One of the main themes that Shaw's play arguably addresses is how people tend to idealize and romanticize love. Another way to put it is that there is a theory of love, and then there’s love in the actual, real world.

In theory, Raina worships the object of her love. She keeps a picture of Sergius in her room. The stage direction notes that she looks at "the picture with worship." Before the Swiss soldier barges into her bedroom, she is praising Sergius: "My hero! My hero!"

Early on, we should be on the lookout for how Shaw might be trying to tell us that what we think of as love might not translate to reality. If Sergius was Raina's true "hero," how come he is not there to protect her from this strange soldier?

In act 2, when Raina and Sergius come together, we witness further performativity of love. Raina calls Sergius "My hero! My king." Sergius refers to Raina as "My queen!" He also “kisses her on the forehead with holy awe.” The theatricality should make us question the authenticity of their feelings.

As the play concludes, we find out that Raina and Segius don't really love each other, and all the picture-worshiping and inflated language was for naught. Indeed, with this play, Shaw might be saying that no amount of dramatic flair can compensate for who we do or don’t viscerally love.

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Love in Arms and the Man is presented to us as something that can be used to challenge the stifling restrictions of social convention. This is because it comes from the heart, from our human selves, not from our place in society.

At first, Raina doesn't seem to understand this. When we first meet her, we discover that she appears to be head over heels in love with the man of her dreams, Sergius. But it soon becomes clear that she's in love with the idea of love itself, an idea that is largely conditioned by society and its prevailing values. Her supposed love for Sergius is based largely on her false estimation of him as a war hero, an estimation shared by society. There's no sense at all that Raina loves Sergius for himself but solely for his allegedly heroic exploits on the field of battle.

Unless love is true, which it clearly isn't in this case, it can never challenge society's values, only perpetuate them. Sergius's love for the servant Louka is different. It is wholly genuine and transcends the vast social gulf that exists between them. For Sergius to marry Louka would be a scandal in the eyes of society, but at the same time it would represent a triumph of the power of love.

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Like war, love is explored in the play in such a way as to show the value of realism over Romanticism. "Arms" in the play's title refers both to weapons the men carry into warfare and the arms with which they encircle their lovers. In both cases, Shaw argues that people need to face realistically what they are doing and why.

As with war, Sergius and Raina romanticize love. Neither really loves the other, but they feel they ought to enact a fantasy. Sergius is the dashing war hero, and Raina is the rich and attractive upper-class young woman. To fulfill a romantic narrative that has been pre-scripted for them by their culture, they feel compelled to be in love.

In reality, Sergius really loves Raina's maid, Louka, even though that is far less romantic than being in love with Raina. Raina, in turn, really loves the pragmatic war mercenary and deserter Bluntschli, despite his not being her romantic ideal. However, when she lets herself be herself, she realizes that it is in fact because of Bluntschli's blunt realism that she loves him.

The plays questions adhering to false notions of reality, no matter whether it is a question of love or war. Pretense in both cases leads to misery. Wars in reality are miserable endeavors characterized by incompetency, while love can't be controlled or scripted.

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Love is explored in Arms and the Man by Shaw in two places: through war and through romance.

The major romance in the play is between Raina and Sergius. Superficially, they are an ideal match. Their social status matches, and when they are with each other, they are the archetypes often found in the chivalric romances of the Middle Ages. Sergius is proud and strong with a little swagger. Raina behaves as she has been taught she should. However, they are both playing parts, and love cannot be purely superficial. The standards for courtship are rigid and idealized, and do not allow for true expressions of feelings. Eventually, they must confront their true feelings, and the reality does not mesh with the ideal they envisioned. Raina ends up with Bluntschli, a practical, sturdy sort of man, not the sort songs are written about.

Sergius is not so successful in overcoming his ideals. He puts Raina on a pedestal as he does war. War has always been glorified in history, and Sergius is no exception.  After experiencing war he says,

“And how ridiculous! Oh, war! War! The dream of patriots and heroes! A fraud, Bluntschli, a hollow sham.”

Sergius admits that glory in war is a dream, a love that comes about from not truly experiencing something.  However, he sees this not as an issue with war and the way war is seen, but with the men themselves who fight in it. The war is settled with a peace treaty, which Catherine feels is not how war is supposed to end. In war, the enemy must be crushed. Balance and restraint are not the markers of a hero.

The ideal versus the reality—this is what Shaw was playing with when describing both love of a person and love of war. For Shaw, it is the ideal of love that must be overcome in order to achieve happiness.

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