Arms and the Man

Arms and the Man Literary Elements





Setting and Context

A small Bulgarian town, near the Dragoman Pass, during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War

Narrator and Point of View

There is no narrator, as the work is a play. However, the stage directions give great detail about how the audience should feel about the characters. For example, descriptions of Catherine and Raina's clothing belie their class pretensions and the library, which is talked up consistently by the Petkoffs, is revealed in the stage description of Act III to be nothing more than a bookshelf.

Tone and Mood

A farcical comedy concerning the nature of war and love.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Raina Petkoff is the protagonist, and her true antagonist is the reality of war and love.

Major Conflict

Raina Petkoff and her betrothed Sergius Saranoff harbor illusions about love and war, which are shattered by the presence of Captain Bluntschli, a mercenary who embodies pragmatism gained through experience.


As Captain Bluntschli is revealed to be the chocolate cream soldier, the charades are ended - Sergius proposes marriage to Louka and Raina drops her performance of romance.


In Act I, Raina tells Captain Bluntschli that he is as safe in the Petkoff home as he would be if he were in the house of his own father. Bluntschli balks at this, foreshadowing the reveal of his relationship with his father. In Act III, Bluntschli learns that his father had died, and is not terribly upset. He inherits his father's hotel business, which makes him a suitable match for Raina. Also in Act I, Raina muses to Catherine that her feelings of love are proven to be real because of Sergius' victory in battle. This foreshadows Raina's eventual abandon of her pretensions, as she is aware of their falsehood from the beginning of the play.




The title is taken from the first line of Virgil's Aeneid, and the first act of the play is largely patterned after the events of its namesake. The Aeneid begins by announcing that it will sing of arms and the man and continues to celebrate the glorious story of Aenas. At every opportunity Shaw reflects the Aeneid and then effectively undercuts it; Bluntschli is anything but a glamorous hero. By diminishing all the heroic aspects of Aeneas’ story, Shaw effectively satirizes it and its predilection for romanticizing war and worshipping heroes.


The stage directions provide visual clues for the meaning beyond the dialogue. For example, Raina's room, the library, and the costume and jewelry choices for the characters add an extra dimension of symbolism and irony.


The term "chocolate cream soldier" carries a connotation of softness. However, the chocolate soldier is in actuality wiser than the other 9 out of 10 who are, as Bluntschli says, fools. The soldier that carries chocolate rather than munitions is one who is concerned with his safety rather than heroism. For a professional soldier like Bluntschli, a chocolate soldier is pragmatic and wise. Raina at first misinterprets Bluntschli's desire for the sweet; she assumes he is callous and detached, unlike the proud officers of her father and betrothed. After she is schooled in the reality of battle and love, this insult is turned into a pet name.


Captain Bluntschli challenges Raina at every turn, as he is the only one who can see through her performance. In a witty moment of parallelism, he turns her words around:

Raina: Do you know, you are the first man I ever met who did not take me seriously?
Bluntschli: You mean, don't you, that I am the first man that has ever taken you quite seriously? (51)

Raina asserts that other men take her performance at face value, and consider her a woman of pride and fine bearing. Bluntschli, on the other hand, sees her for the woman she is, rather than who she pretends to be. Therefore, he is the only man who takes the true Raina seriously, discounting her lie.



Use of Dramatic Devices

Major Petkoff is most often used as comic relief. His thin grasp on the machinations both on the battlefield and in his own home is the basis for much of the humorous misunderstanding in the play. The arrival of Captain Bluntschli brings the Major's blunders into relief. Deft misdirection by Catherine and Raina lead to the most humorous scenes of the play. The women use Nicola as a scapegoat when trying to keep Bluntschli's identity as the chocolate cream soldier a mystery. Raina's lie about a ruined dessert and Catherine's mock innocence when Nicola brings the captain's bag to her alleviates the Major's suspicion while casting doubt on Nicola's capabilities. Catherine's skillful deception regarding the old coat results in her husband's befuddlement - and a piece of jewelry. Major Petkoff and Nicola's moments of confusion are moments of pure farce in a play concerned with knowledge as power.

The stage directions also serve to undercut the pretensions of the characters, as the descriptions of setting and costumes reveal the truth, which is often contrary to the dialogue. For example, the library, a point of pride to the Petkoffs, is revealed to be nothing more than a bookshelf.