Arms and the Man

Arms and the Man Summary and Analysis of Act II

Summary

A little less than four months have passed since the incident with the chocolate cream soldier. Louka and Nicola stand in the kitchen with the used breakfast dishes arguing about the proper attitude towards their employers. Louka sneeringly accuses Nicola of having “the soul of a servant” and hints that she could reveal many of the Petkoffs’ secrets if they were to quarrel with her (23). Nicola remains calm and explains that he knows many more secrets than Louka, but that using them against the family would only backfire.

Suddenly Major Petkoff’s voice is heard from outside; he has returned from the war. A man in his early 50s, Major Petkoff is excited by the respect and title his participation in the war has conferred on him. Louka brings him coffee and brandy and Catherine runs down excitedly, still in her house clothes, to meet him. When told that the war has ended in a peace treaty, Catherine is indignant, insisting that the Bulgarians should have fought on to annex Serbia. Major Petkoff appeases her and ends the discussion, saying he could no longer remain away from her.

The Major reveals some of his ignorance by telling Catherine her sore throat is the result of too much washing and ridiculing a British man who bathed every day during the war. Catherine teases him for being a barbarian and announces she has had an electric bell installed to summon the help, because "civilized people never shout for their servants” (25). During their back-and-forth Sergius arrives at the gate and Nicola is dispatched to help him with his things. Major Petkoff tells his wife that Sergius is upset about rightly being denied a promotion after his careless cavalry charge.

Despite the Major’s intimation about the charge, Catherine refuses to believe it and treats the handsome, idealistic and somewhat moody Sergius like a returning hero. After entering the garden, Sergius turns down breakfast and poses himself self-consciously against a rail. He explains to an astonished Catherine that the cavalry charge ruined his military career and that he has submitted his resignation.

The second Sergius asks for Raina, she makes a dramatic entrance in a beautiful gold and green dress. The Major remarks that her timing is impressive, but Catherine reveals that Raina listens outside doors in order to make the most impressive entrance. Sergius and Raina greet each other like characters out of a romantic play about love-struck nobles. Then, prompted by Catherine, Sergius explains his disgust with the military and war, saying soldiering is the dishonorable art of catching an enemy at a disadvantage and railing against the bland professionalism of the foreign officers. Major Petkoff explains that the foreign officers were left to teach the local forces how to properly fight a war.

A Swiss mercenary is mentioned and Sergius retells an anecdote he heard about the man: that he broke into the room of a young Bulgarian woman, who hid him and then proceeded to entertain him for an hour before finally telling her mother. The two women then snuck the man out in an old housecoat. Raina and Catherine act indignant, claiming that such a crude story should never be told in front of proper women. Major Petkoff rejects the women’s pretension but Sergius apologizes, claiming his experiences during the war have made him cynical.

Catherine deftly manipulates Major Petkoff into leaving with her so Raina and Sergius can have a moment alone. The two lovers great each other formally with a sense of “holy awe” and begin to praise one another in exalted tones (31). Without a trace of irony, Raina tells Sergius that they have found a “higher love” (31). Louka enters the garden to clear away the coffee dishes and interrupts their romantic posturing. Suddenly self-conscious, Raina leaves to fetch her hat so she and Sergius may go walking and find some privacy.

As soon as Raina departs, Sergius hones in on Louka, telling her that higher love is very fatiguing and pulling her into his arms. The always practical Louka suggests that he should either release her or at the very least they should move towards the back where they won’t be seen. Louka rejects Sergius’ kisses, criticizing his and Raina’s romantic posturing and their subsequent indecent behavior. Hardening, Sergius attempts to shame Louka for insulting Raina, but Louka’s wit is too quick and sharp for his barbs to land.

Sergius angrily demands to know who Raina has been indecent with, bruising Louka’s arm when she refuses to tell him. Furious with Louka for withholding information and criticizing him and his fiancé, Sergius sneers that Louka has the “soul of a servant” (35). Louka’s defiant but clearly wounded dignity causes Sergius to sincerely apologize. Yet Louka does not accept his apology, insisting that he can only remedy the situation by kissing her bruised arm. Sergius balks and refuses as Raina enters the room.

As the couple is about to leave for their walk, Catherine comes calling for Sergius, who is needed to help Major Petkoff coordinate troop movements. Raina pouts at losing her time alone with Sergius and goes to stand conspicuously before the library window so her father can see her waiting. Catherine and Raina argue while Sergius helps the Major. Catherine demands to know how long the Swiss mercenary was in her room and Raina professes not to know before telling her mother that she, Catherine, should marry her “pet” Sergius (37). Raina muses that telling Sergius about the chocolate cream soldier would be satisfying, saying she often has an urge to shock or upset his exhausting sense of propriety.

Just as Raina stalks away from her argument with Catherine, Louka enters and announces that a Serbian officer of Swiss origin has arrived and is asking for the lady of the house. Thinking quickly, Catherine tells Louka to discreetly close the door to the library where Major Petkoff and Sergius are working before bringing the Swiss soldier into the backyard with all his bags. When the chocolate cream soldier, now identified as Captain Bluntschli, arrives in the garden, Catherine explains that he must leave at once, as her husband will be angry to see a Serbian officer in their home. The Captain has come to return the old housecoat that was used to smuggle him, but Catherine is only preoccupied with getting him out of their home before the Major sees him.

Before Catherine can rush the mercenary out of the yard, Major Petkoff and Sergius come running out to warmly greet Bluntschli, who they had dealings with during the war. The two Bulgarian soldiers beg Bluntschli to stay and help them coordinate troop movements, as they are at a loss. As Bluntschli is walking to the famous library to aid them, Raina catches a glimpse of him and involuntarily gasps that it is the chocolate cream soldier. Sergius and Major Petkoff look at her in confusion. She quickly explains that she had made a soldier-shaped cake decoration out of chocolate cream, but Nicola had accidentally crushed it. Catherine introduces Raina to Captain Bluntschli as if for the first time.

A moment later Nicola brings Captain Bluntschli’s bags as Catherine instructed. Major Petkoff is appalled that Nicola would rudely bring out a man’s luggage, as if encouraging his departure, when he has just arrived. Nicola attempts to explain Catherine’s orders, but she denies having made any. The Petkoffs scold a bewildered Nicola, who apologizes and then retreats in confusion, dropping Bluntschli’s bag on the Major’s foot as he exits.

Major Petkoff asks Bluntschli to stay with the family until he must return to Switzerland. Raina and Sergius second the Major’s request. To Catherine’s consternation, Bluntschli agrees to stay.

Analysis

Act II introduces the reader to Sergius, who matches Raina in terms of romantic delusions. The couple sing each other’s praises in ridiculous and reverential tones and Sergius clings to the ideal of a heroic and brave soldier, despising the detached professionalism he encountered during the campaign. In his mind the true measure of a soldier should still be honor or bravery, not necessarily success or efficiency. He also shares his fiancée’s habit of self-conscious posturing. Like Raina at the opening of the play, he poses in the garden, trying to strike a deliberately heroic stance.

Yet Sergius also exhibits Raina’s creeping disillusionment with romanticism. War has made him cynical and pushes him to question whether his ideals of bravery have any place in reality. He admits to Louka that the “higher love” he has with Raina is exhausting, all while embracing her and attempting to kiss her (32). During her argument with Catherine, Raina also admits that she finds her fiancé’s moral pretensions exhausting and wishes to shock Sergius’ faux propriety. Raina and Sergius’ romantic act leaves them both tired and stressed, creating an opening for the end of their engagement.

The second act also introduces Major Petkoff, a bumbling figure whose ignorance underlies many of the play’s more farcical moments. His blustering rebuke of Nicola reflects this pattern; his ignorance of the meaning of his daughter’s comment about the chocolate cream soldier paired with his ignorance of his wife’s secret directives, lead to one of the act’s funnier moments. His lack of knowledge is also highlighted when he attributes a sore throat to too much bathing and proves unable to organize simple troop movements.

Together Major Petkoff and Sergius work to prove Captain Bluntschli’s remark that “nine soldiers out of ten are born fools” (9). The Captain represents an exception. He is the tenth soldier: competent, realistic, professional. On the contrary, Major Petkoff and Major Sergius Saranoff are common fools. Though they outrank the Captain they must beg for his help in arranging troop movements, as they do not understand the logistics of warfare. Major Petkoff plays the fool during the play’s second and third acts and Sergius is filled with ridiculous romantic bluster that isn’t deflated until the play’s end. These are very different depictions of a soldier from the efficient and professional portrait of Bluntschli in the first act.

Louka proves a perceptive witness to and commentator on Sergius’ hypocrisy. Using nothing more than a sharp tongue, she successfully dresses down and manipulates the higher-born Sergius throughout the second act. Louka, who is deeply unhappy with the limits of her socio-economic position, shows that “gentlefolk” are neither particularly clever, nor particularly virtuous, despite their pretensions (33). Sergius’ biting comment about Louka having the “soul of a servant” echoes an earlier barb the maid lobs at Nicola (35). Yet the play seems to undermine any the idea that the soul of a servant is something to be despised. Nicola’s admittedly deferential manner speaks to his thorough pragmatism and Louka’s sharp wit and perception speak to her realism. Both servants cut much more flattering figures than either Major Petkoff or Sergius, both foolish members of the upper class.

The Petkoffs continue to show their class pretensions throughout the second act. The Major is filled with pride and repeatedly mentions his personal library, which the third act will reveal is nothing more than a room with a bookshelf. Catherine installs an electric bell in the so-called library because she has the vague notion that civilized people use them. Raina carefully dresses in the latest fashions… of the previous year. These airs are repeatedly the objects of the play’s cutting humor. When the Petkoffs are more humble, Shaw is much kinder to them: he generously describes Catherine’s beauty when she emerges dressed in her traditional house clothes, but ridicules her pretensions when she appears in an occidental tea gown in the first act.

The second act pulls away from the parallelism with the Aeneid displayed in the first. In Virgil’s epic poem Dido’s husband is only a dead memory. Shaw brings the dead to life in his interpretation: Raina’s fiancé returns miraculously unharmed from war. This allows Shaw to create two couples - Raina and Bluntschli, and Sergius and Louka - where the original poem has only one. Yet Shaw continues to satirize the glorification of war embodied by the Aeneid: Aeneas helps build towering buildings and reinforcements in Dido’s town, while Bluntschli makes administrative arrangements to prevent starvation among surviving troops. Arms and the Man allows its characters little traditional heroism.

The play’s farcical or melodramatic elements continue in the second act. The two love stories that begin to unfold - “the highborn lady who falls in love with a man from the bottom of the social scale, who turns out to be a prince in disguise” and “the aristocrat who runs away with a servant girl who represents virtue” - are indeed romantic clichés. These stories start to take shape in the second act and will be resolved in the third: an inheritance in the third act will reveal Bluntschli to be a noble in disguise and finally worthy of Raina’s hand and Sergius will propose to the grounded Louka. Farcical elements are scattered throughout the second act: the women pretending ignorance at the anecdote about the Swiss mercenary, Major Petkoff welcoming Captain Bluntschli as Catherine attempts to rid herself of him, and the extended bit about Nicolas’ incompetence. These highly stylized comic occurrences will continue throughout the play, highlighting the clash between what the characters say, and how they really feel.