What happens in Arms and the Man?

  • A young woman named Raina takes great pride in the Bulgarian army's recent victory over the Serbians. She unexpectedly takes in a Serbian soldier who fled the battle with pieces of chocolate in his pockets in place of ammunition.
  • Though she initially despises the Serbian soldier for being a coward, she ends up falling in love with him and when he leaves, she gives him a coat and a picture of her to take with him.
  • Four months later, the man, Captain Bluntschli, returns the coat as an excuse to see Raina again. Sergius, the Bulgarian commander who won the battle at the beginning of the play, doesn't recognize Bluntschli.
  • Sergius grows jealous of his connection with Raina. Sergius and Bluntschli agree to a duel, but Raina comes in and tells them that she isn't in love with Sergius anymore. Bluntschli proposes to her, and she accepts.

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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Raina is in her bedroom on the second floor of the Petkoff house in a small town in Bulgaria when her mother enters to tell her that Sergius has just led the Bulgarians to victory in battle with the Serbs. Raina rejoices; her idealistic expectations of war and soldiers are met. Louka enters to tell them that the army orders them to lock all the doors and windows while enemy stragglers are being pursued. Catherine and Louka leave. Shots are heard outside and a man stumbles into the room. He is a Serbian artillery officer, exhausted, nervous, and hungry. When soldiers appear at the door, demanding to search the room, Raina on impulse hides the man and tells them no one else is there.

Raina and the man talk. She expresses her contempt for his being a coward and for his stuffing his pockets with chocolate instead of ammunition. He tries to explain to her the realities of battle and identifies her portrait of Sergius as the man who led the charge that won the battle; the Bulgarians won only because the Serbians had the wrong-size ammunition. The man describes Sergius as a romantic fool who won by doing the professionally wrong thing. Raina objects strongly to this, but when the man decides to leave, Raina says she will save him and goes in search of her mother; they return to find him fast asleep on the bed.

Four months later, Nicola and Louka are arguing in the Petkoffs’ garden. Nicola wants Louka to be more polite to the Petkoffs because he intends to set up a shop and is counting on the Petkoffs as his principal customers. Major Petkoff returns from the war and is greeted by his wife, Catherine. Sergius is shown in. Bitter because the army refuses to promote him, he declares his intention to resign. Sergius and Petkoff speak of a tale they heard of a Swiss officer being rescued by two Bulgarian women. At this point, Raina leaves, and when Louka enters, Sergius attempts to flirt with her. Louka tells him that she knows a secret about Raina and a strange man. When they are alone, Raina and Catherine discuss the Swiss soldier. Raina leaves and Louka announces a Captain Bluntschli, who comes to return a coat Raina and Catherine loaned him. Catherine begs him not to reveal who helped him. Petkoff appears and asks Bluntschli to stay to help with some transportation matters. When Raina enters, she manages to cover up her surprise at seeing Bluntschli.

After lunch that day, Petkoff and Sergius are in the library, writing orders for troop movements. Petkoff wants his comfortable old coat and Catherine says it is in the closet (where she put it after getting it back from Bluntschli). Nicola returns with the coat and all leave except Raina and Bluntschli, who discuss lies, gratitude, and the differences between practicality and the false ideals of romanticism. Bluntschli sees through her pretense of noble ideals and Raina admits that he found her out. Raina tells Bluntschli that she put a photograph of herself in the pocket of the coat, but Bluntschli never found it. He receives mail that was collected for him, among which is the news that his father is dead and left him a number of...

(The entire section is 1,985 words.)