Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 577
Catherine Petkoff, the mother of Raina and wife of Major Petkoff. The Petkoffs are an upper-class Bulgarian family. As the play opens, Catherine rushes into Raina’s bedroom in the late evening to tell her the news that Raina’s fiancé, Sergius Saranoff, led a victory in battle in the Russian-Austrian War, with the Bulgarians on the side of the Russians. Both women are thrilled, and both are very romantic in their attitudes.
Raina Petkoff, a twenty-three-year-old who idealistically believes herself to be in love with Sergius, to whom she is engaged. As the play develops, a series of shocks and learning experiences, such as seeing Sergius with his arm around Louka, move her away from idealism and toward realism.
Louka, a servant in the household who is engaged to another servant, Nicola. She comes in to tell Catherine and Raina that the windows and shutters are to be closed and fastened because the enemy is being chased through the town by Bulgarian soldiers. Catherine tells Raina to close them and leave them closed, then leaves to take care of the rest of the household; Raina, however, prefers the windows open, so Louka closes them in such a way that Raina can open them and then leaves.
Captain Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary soldier of about thirty-five years. He is running away after his company lost the battle to Sergius. His father owns a chain of hotels in Switzerland. Although Bluntschli is in many ways a realist, his choice of the life of a soldier, a choice not forced upon him, is unrealistic. He startles Raina when she hears him climbing up to her balcony and coming into her room after she had blown out her candle in fright; he orders her not to expose him. She goes back and forth between treating him as an enemy and feeling sorry for him. When a Russian officer arrives searching for him, she hides and protects him, and eventually he falls asleep in her bed. Though shocked, Catherine and Raina finally allow him to sleep, and presumably he leaves safely the next morning.
Nicola, a servant engaged to Louka. They have a conversation at the beginning of act 2, as they do again later, and it becomes clear that they will almost surely never marry. Louka bitterly resents being a servant, but Nicola respects his role as a servant and respects the family, viewing them as a source of patronage when he saves enough money to open a shop.
Major Paul Petkoff
Major Paul Petkoff, a commander of the Bulgarian army who is about fifty years old. He arrives home in March, 1886, immediately after the servants’ conversation.
Major Sergius Saranoff
Major Sergius Saranoff, who arrives soon after Petkoff has greeted his servants and his wife in the garden. Raina makes a dramatic entrance, and when the others leave them, Sergius and Raina express their highly romantic (and false) idea of love for each other. When Raina returns to the house, Sergius attempts to make love to Louka. Bluntschli arrives to return Petkoff’s coat, which Raina had lent him. During a series of comical interludes, it is revealed that Sergius’ “heroism” was a stupid mistake that turned out luckily. It turns out that Sergius will marry Louka and that Bluntschli will marry Raina (with the approval of her parents, once they learn of his wealth); both couples feel genuine love, not false romanticism.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1178
Bluntschli is a realist who believes in adapting to a situation in order to survive. A professional soldier, he knows that he is only a tool and he has no illusions about war and the practical actions one must take to win battles and stay alive. His most famous feature is that he keeps chocolates in his cartridge belt rather than bullets. His common sense appeals to Sergius, who is in awe of Bluntschli’s ability to figure out troop movements. This influence helps Sergius make the decision to be honest about Louka and to change his life.
When Bluntschli takes refuge in Raina’s bedroom, he starts a chain of events that changes his life and the lives of all those associated with the Petkoff family. Despite his pragmatism, Bluntschli has a romantic side, illustrated by such actions as: he ran off to be a soldier rather than go into his father’s business; he climbs a balcony to escape rather than drop into a cellar; and he himself returns the borrowed coat rather than shipping it, because he wants to see Raina. He has always known that total pragmatism can be as unrealistic as overblown idealism and he has tried to maintain a balance. However, over the course of the play, this balance flip-flops as he changes from a soldier who looks askance at love, to a man who is leaving the army to get married and to take care of his father’s business. Thus, the man who changed Raina’s and Sergius’s lives has also had his own life transformed.
An ambitious and sometimes spiteful maid who is desperate to rise above her station, Louka is attracted to Major Sergius Saranoff, and he to her. However, Sergius is engaged to Raina, and he is gentry while Louka is just a servant. Louka shames Sergius about the hypocrisy of his behavior. She tries to break up his relationship with Raina when Captain Bluntschli returns, knowing that Bluntschli is the enemy soldier who hid in Raina’s bedroom. Louka is herself supposedly engaged to another servant, Nicola, who advises her to accept her place in life, but she rejects his downcast philosophy and eventually wins her man and a new life.
A wily servant, Nicola covers for Raina and Catherine’s intrigues. He believes that class division is an indisputable system, and he advises Louka to accept her place. He found Louka, taught her how to be a proper servant, and plans to marry her, but he comes to see how Louka’s marriage to Sergius would create an advantage for both Louka and for himself. Thus, he changes his story about his engagement to Louka, and he promotes Louka’s ambitions. Ultimately, Nicola wants to run his own business, so he will do whatever it takes to stay in favor with potential patrons, while taking advantage of opportunities to earn extra capital for special services.
Raina’s mother and the wife of Major Paul Petkoff, Catherine is a nouveau-riche social climber. Crudely ignorant and snooty, Catherine is Shaw’s voice for the stereotypical expectations of romanticized love and war. Catherine is disappointed when the war ends in a peace treaty, because she wanted a glorious victory over a soundly defeated enemy. Although she allows Bluntschli to hide in her home and she helps to keep him secret, she thinks Sergius Saranoff is the ideal handsome hero her daughter must marry for an appropriate match. She declares Bluntschli unsuitable until she finds out how rich he is, and then she quickly changes her mind.
Major Paul Petkoff
Raina’s father and Catherine’s husband, Major Petkoff is an amiable, unpolished buffoon who craves rank and has somehow stumbled into wealth. His rank was given to him for being the richest Bulgarian, but he has no military skills. His purpose in the play is almost that of a prop. It is his old coat that is lent to Bluntschli and which then gives Bluntschli the excuse to come back to see Raina. It is Petkoff who discovers the incriminating photo in his coat pocket that leads to the revelation of the truth and to the resolution of the story.
The central character in the play, Raina learns to discard her foolish ideals about love in exchange for real love. Raina is central because Catherine and Paul Petkoff are her parents, Sergius is her fiancé, Louka and Nicola are her family’s servants, and Bluntschli is her dream soldier. The play starts in her bedroom, where we learn what a dreamy romantic she is about love and war, before the enemy soldier comes through her window and begins to shatter her fairy-tale illusions with his realism.
Shaw was known for creating lively, willful, and articulate female characters. He also often included a youthful character in his plays, one who could express a childish approach to life. Raina fits both these descriptions. She is unworldly and sometimes acts like a spoiled child to get her way. Catherine points out that Raina always times her entrances to get the most attention. Nonetheless, Raina is intelligent. She probably wouldn’t have fallen for Bluntschli if she had not been open to his arguments and if she were not smart enough to see the differences in qualities between Bluntschli and Saranoff. She is also honest enough with herself to realize that she is not truly in love with Saranoff, but was just playing a role to meet social expectations. Raina has enough bravery and compassion to aid an enemy soldier in need, and she is courageous and adventurous enough to take a risk with Bluntschli and to start a new life.
Major Sergius Saranoff
Major Saranoff is Raina’s fiancé, and he is a shining example of Raina and her mother’s romanticized image of a hero. He is almost quixotic in his attempt to live up to this image, especially in battle, for it is hopeless to try to embody a myth. Thus, Shaw uses this character to show that these romanticized ideals were probably nonsense all along. Sergius is often referred to as the Byronic hero or as the Hamlet of this play because he has an underlying despair about life. He clings to his idealized image of himself because he is afraid to find out who he really is. He knows that he is a different person with Raina than he is with Louka, and Louka has pointed out his hypocritical behaviors to him. Sergius realizes that there must be more to himself than the idealized soldier the young ladies worship, but of the other selves that he has observed in himself he says: “One of them is a hero, another a buffoon, another a humbug, another perhaps a bit of a blackguard.” He is disconcerted by the feeling that “everything I think is mocked by everything I do.” In losing Raina and declaring his love for Louka, Sergius is freed to be himself and to discover his own values.
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