What are the themes in Arms and the Man?

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We can go very deep into theme from Shaw's work of literature by talking about idealism and realism and how they exist in regards to both war and love, but the truth of the matter is that one can sum up the themes of Arms and the Man by focusing on the theme of appearance vs. reality.  Let's look at this theme in regards to war, society, and love.

In regards to war, the "appearance" of war is one of idealism.  Soldiers gloriously fighting in battle and coming home heroes.  One need only to look at Raina and Sergius to see war in how idealism is displayed. "The dream of patriots and heroes!" The reality of war, of course, is displayed more in the character of Bluntschli.  I have always found it ironic how the word "blunt" is found right in his name.  Bluntschli insists that war has a negative effect on the men participating.  They want food and sleep.  Basically, they want to be anywhere but on the battlefield.  Very far from the idealistic appearance of war as a glorified hero.  Shaw might say that Raina and Sergius learn the truth through the course of the work.

In regards to society, although the appearance of class and distinction seem positive, the reality is distinctly different.  For example, even though Bluntschli has a fairly low rank, his intelligence far outweighs that of his superior officers in many ways.  In regards to society as a whole, one need only look at the flippant Catherine to see Shaw's commentary on class distinction.  Catherine, of course still hold the "appearance" of high society. 

Finally, love can also fall into the appearance vs. reality theme.  It is NOT a surprise that Shaw approaches this subject yet again.  (He is a big fan of approaching it in his other works of literature.)  It is the relationship between Raina and Sergius that best exemplified the appearance vs. reality theme in regards to love.  Raina has been instructed to love someone like Sergius.  Sergius has been instructed to seek out someone of Raina's social status.  Both of them are fooling themselves in choosing each other, each pretending to be something they are not.  Only by the end of the work do they discover their true selves.  Idealism has lost out yet again.

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What are the themes discussed by George Bernard Shaw in Arms and the Man?

Arms and the Man is an anti-war play wrapped within a romantic comedy. Its primary theme is the senselessness of war, and an important secondary theme is women’s burden in maintaining civil society during wartime.

As a pacifist, George Bernard Shaw frequently wrote and spoke against war. At the time he wrote Arms, which premiered in 1894, the late nineteenth century saw Europe pushed and pulled by constant conflicts as alliances were formed, broken, and reformed; Germany vied with the expanding Austro-Hungarian empire, and a Franco-Russian alliance was formed in 1891.

The two male protagonists embody different kinds of bravery and cowardice in war. In addition, by making two of the central characters female and giving them opposite personalities, Shaw pointed out not only age differences, but class differences that shape women’s understanding of armed conflict. Raina matures—to the extent this is likely to occur in a comedy—as she moves from infatuation with the dashing soldier Sergius, through questioning his ability in battle, to a love for Bluntschli that includes admiration for his anti-war stance. While at first she branded him a coward and deserter, she comes to see his position as more principled than Sergius’s glory-seeking and unthinking jingoism.

Sergius is also exposed as hypocritical in his personal life. Although engaged to Raina, he flirts with the Petkoff family’s housemaid, Louka. The vain Sergius, who seems to be trying on identities that include brave soldier, refers to himself as “a half dozen Sergiuses” and to his own “handsome figure.” She plays a pivotal role in advancing the plot, both through gossip and her general outspokenness in challenging the class structure. Her desire to advance her position—which could be called social climbing—is one reason she rejects the family’s male servant, Nicola. While she and Sergius end up as a couple, whether their relationship is based on love remains unresolved.

At the play’s beginning, Raina, her mother Catherine, and Louka are in the Petkoff family home while the men are off at the front. Meanwhile they are responsible for keeping the homefires burning. Although Blunthschli turns out to be a noble character, his intrusion into Raina’s bedroom in act 1 shows the woman’s vulnerable position. In this theme, Shaw follows an established tradition of addressing war from a female perspective, dating back to ancient Greece and Euripides's play The Trojan Women.

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What are the themes discussed by George Bernard Shaw in Arms and the Man?

Shaw is also satirizing traditional notions of masculinity in this play and capitalism, too.  He suggests that war, capitalism, and sexism are all linked, all defining each each other.  Capitalism makes possible the machines of war, war turns boys into men, men find meaning about who they are by the wars they fight.  Shaw was a pacifist and a Fabian, which is a kind of socialist.  He was very interested in women's rights, and in understanding the roles of women he began to dramatize how notions of gender depend on other institutions in our culture.  In his play Mrs. Warren's Profession, for example, he explored how prostitution depended upon capitalism and restricted opportunities for women.

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What are the themes discussed by George Bernard Shaw in Arms and the Man?

One of the themes is the romanticism of war. Shaw satirizes the romantic ideas of war that seem to help glorify such a grim event. Because Bernard Shaw uses a comic tone, it is important to realize the horrific situation that the soldier had just endured. It seems as if he is trying to dispel the idea of the "hero" of war.

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what is the theme of Shaw's Arms and The Man?

We start with the source of the title: the opening line of Virgil's Aeneid,  the story of the founding of Rome.  Virgil is announcing he intends to deal not only with the Trojan War but with the man, Aeneus.  Shaw, in taking this title, is stressing the differences between Bluntschi, the soldier and… the “chocolate soldier,” that is the peaceful human being underneath the military exterior.  Bluntschli, as the underplot of the play reveals, is not really of militant disposition, but much more a lover and humanist.  Shaw, here and in many of his other works (cf. for example, Major Barbara, and Man and Superman) finds dramatic fodder in exposing the contrasts between the outer social pretences and the human character disguised by social custom.

The play (1894, early in his canon of some 60 plays) is, of course, a criticism of English society (regardless of its setting in a non-realistic Serbo-Bulgarian conflict) and a comedy meant to amuse all cross-sections of a highly layered English society (the servant class in the play is well developed), but its lasting value as literature can be attributed to Shaw’s insights into the difference between outside actions (which can appear superficially to be brave or heroic) and inner qualities and worth.  The battle charge of Sergius (which appears to be bravery but was in fact accidental foolishness) is a perfect vignette of the theme.  That he is engaged to Raina but flirts with Louka (his social inferior) reveals to the audience his true character.  Bluntschi, on the other hand, appears coward-like by hiding in Raina's bedroom, but is in fact a man worthy of Raina’s love.  So the primary theme of the play, resting on the comic business, is the importance of not judging people by exteriors or by social rank, and of looking both at the "arms" and the "man."

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