Raina, a young woman from an upper class Bulgarian family, begins the play clinging to romantic delusions about both war and love, worshiping her fiancé Sergius' brave feats in war and cherishing the pure love they share. She self-consciously attempts to live up to these romantic ideals; Catherine reveals that she always listens outside doors, waiting for the most dramatic moment to enter. Yet Raina has doubts about the realism of the notions that she and Sergius share. She also shows significant compassion, cringing at the cruelty of hunting down fleeing troops and ultimately saving Bluntschli's life. By the end of the work, Raina has, with Bluntschli's prompting, abandoned her romantic posturing and embraced a more pragmatic viewpoint. The play ends with her engagement to the practical Bluntschli.
Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary who clambers through Raina's bedroom widow as he flees Bulgarian troops, best represents the qualities promoted by the play: realism and pragmatism. Bluntschli is unconcerned with romantic ideas about heroism or conduct in war; he is concerned with professional conduct, efficiency and survival. Yet Bluntschli has a romantic heart and returns to see Raina, whom he has become taken with. During his visit he learns of his father's death, resulting in his inheritance of a large sum of money. Eventually Bluntschli overcomes Raina's posturing and asks for her hand in marriage, using his newly inherited wealth to win Major Petkoff's approval.
Sergius is Raina’s somewhat foolish fiancé. Believing in the romantic ideals championed by poetry and opera, Sergius leads a doomed cavalry charge, and is saved only by dumb luck. His ignorance of the science of warfare makes him an inept officer; he struggles to coordinate troop movements and must appeal to Bluntschli for help. Despite grandly proclaiming his love for Raina, he finds their relationship exhausting. He flirts heavily with Raina’s more practical maid Louka, whom he feels at ease with. In the end Sergius demonstrates courage and embraces his true feelings and asks Louka for her hand in marriage.
Louka, the Petkoffs' beautiful and somewhat insolent maid, has trouble accepting her place in the household. Engaged to Nicola, an older servant who often lectures her on her inappropriate conduct, Louka resents her socio-economic position. Though initially shocked by his flirtatious behavior, Louka engages with Sergius, both teasing and confronting him about the gap between his ideals and conduct. She declares her love for Sergius, unembarrassed by their difference in social standing. At the end of the play Sergius proposes to her and they are engaged.
Raina’s mother Catherine shares many of her daughter’s illusions about love and warfare, as well as her class pretensions. Catherine feels the need to wear Viennese clothing and imitate Western customs, installing an electric bell in the library when she learns Western Europeans do not shout for their servants. Despite her illusions, she proves competent and business-like, securing the house during the aftermath of the battle and even helping Major Petkoff instill discipline in his troops. She proves a more pragmatic counterbalance to the bumbling Major.
Raina’s father Major Petkoff cuts a ridiculous figure. Like Sergius, Major Petkoff is unable to coordinate basic troop movements and relies on Bluntschli to do his work for him. He is the butt of several of the play’s more farcical jokes, serving as comic relief. He represents the opposite of competency; in one scene he asks his wife to accompany him to inspect his troops, as she will prove more intimidating than he.
Nicola serves the Petkoff family and is engaged to Louka at the outset of the play. A very practical man, Nicola understands and embraces his social position. He dreams of opening a store and approaches his goal in a pragmatic way. He worries that Louka does not understand how to be a good servant, repeatedly lecturing her. When Louka and Sergius' relationship comes to light he gracefully withdraws his engagement to Louka, claiming she would be better as a new store customer than as a wife. Toward the end of the play Bluntschli announces his intention to hire Nicola to help run one of his inherited hotels.
Arms and the Man Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Arms and the Man is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.