Student Question

Why does Catherine in "Arms and the Man" respond as she does when Raina expresses concern about a character appearing inferior to Russian officers?

"A poor figure! Shame on you! The Serbs have Austrian officers who are just as clever as the Russians; but we have beaten them in every battle for all that."

Expert Answers

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At the beginning of the play, Raina's  conversation with her mother, Catherine Petkoff, alludes to the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885. In Act 1, we learn that Raina is engaged to a Bulgarian officer, Sergius Saranoff.

While Catherine is in ecstasies regarding Saranoff's heroic cavalry charge, Raina initially expresses some doubt about her fiance's valor. She thinks that reading too much Byron and Pushkin has colored her perception of soldiering.

Only think, mother, I doubted him: I wondered whether all his heroic qualities and his soldiership might not prove mere imagination when he went into a real battle...

Because the operas and literature she is so fond of promote military valor in such romantic terms, Raina is afraid to trust that fiction can hold up to reality. Catherine asserts that Raina should be ashamed of herself for doubting Sergius, because their soldiers have already proven themselves on the battlefield. She thinks that Raina should not doubt the efficacy or valor of Russian/Bulgarian troops, as they have defeated the Serbians in every battle, despite the presence of clever officers on the Serbian side.

In other words, Catherine is telling Raina that she should have more faith in the evidence before her eyes rather than her fears.

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