Student Question

In what ways is Captain Bluntschli an anti-hero in Arms and the Man?

Expert Answers

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The typical hero is brave, strong, and romantic, concerned with honor and glory. In Homer's epics, for example, a key motivation for the hero was "kleos" (fame) that would live on after the hero's death. A reputation for bravery was so important that Greek mothers told their sons as they went off to war:

"Come back with your shield—or on it" (Plutarch, Moralia 241).

Captain Bluntschli, on the other hand, has no desire for glory. He is not fighting for honor or for a cause, but is working as a mercenary and is quite willing to run away if it saves his life.

Rather than presenting an heroic demeanor, as the heroes of an opera, he is dirty and exhausted, and even scared of Raina at times. Nevertheless, he possesses an acute and cynical intelligence that enables him to look at war with a keen, realistic eye. Rather than seeing a cavalry charge as romantic, he describes it as "like slinging a handful of peas against a window pane." Far from seeing the leader of such a charge as brave, he surmises that the only reason someone would be in front is because his horse has bolted. 

While he sees war as a business, and he does his job efficiently, he is not willing to sacrifice his life simply for the sake of his employers, and actually carries food in his ammo pouch rather than bullets. He is quite willing to hide behind a curtain to save his life and admit to fear when he feels it, both very unheroic characteristics.

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