Hearing about Sergius’ heroic cavalry charge, Raina expresses relief because the event confirms the couple’s romantic ideas of war and love. The theatrical gesture apparently leads to a glorious victory, seemingly reinforcing traditional notions of bravery and heroism. Raina, despite her almost constant posturing, has serious doubts about the realism of the ideals she shares with her fiancé. These doubts reveal that Raina’s romantic delusions are a veneer and that she is capable of rational and unprejudiced thinking. This explains her seemingly rapid change of heart and eventual love for Bluntschli. The characteristics she demonstrates at the end of the play were always within her, only hidden.
I’ve no ammunition. What use are cartridges in battle? I always carry chocolate instead.
Captain Bluntschli upends many of Raina’s and the audience’s assumptions about war. Instead of focusing on the ability to harm enemy soldiers, the Swiss mercenary focuses on the ability to survive, knowing that starvation is a very real and painful possibility in extended battles. The audience is later informed that, due to a logistical error, the cartridges Bluntschli was issued were of the wrong size. In this light, Bluntschli’s choice to carry chocolate rations is even more logical. The Captain’s decision reveals that he is unconcerned with traditional notions of bravery or machismo, embracing efficiency and pragmatism instead of romantic ideals. Raina misunderstands the meaning of Bluntschli’s choice, assuming the chocolate is a luxurious sweet and not the gritty, brittle field rations it actually is.
You never saw a cavalry charge, did you?
When Raina enthusiastically asks Bluntschli to describe Sergius’ heroic cavalry charge, he reacts by questioning her knowledge of war. Someone who understood the brutal realities of battle would not applaud such theatrical and useless gestures. The Captain’s superior knowledge clashes with Raina’s obvious ignorance. Bluntschli quickly disabuses her of her delusions, explaining that Sergius’ charge was a poor decision that succeeded solely out of dumb luck. Many of the delusions held by the characters in Arms and the Man are the result of a lack of information. Once confronted with knowledge and realism, the fragile romanticisms yield to more robust pragmatism. Raina, having never been allowed to participate in war, clings to impractical notions, but once given new information, begins to question her beliefs.
You have the soul of a servant, Nicola.
Louka spits the following insult at her fiancé Nicola during an argument about adhering to class expectations. Though Louka means to wound with her comment, Nicola is not wounded by it. He pragmatically understands and accepts his position in society. The older servant’s thorough pragmatism proves his strongest trait and eventually wins him a job managing one of Bluntschli’s hotels. The comment reveals Louka’s discomfort with her station. She chafes against the restraints put on her life and is indignant when treated as an inferior. The strength of the effects of class on local society can be seen in Louka’s experience: she is prevented from expressing herself, reading, and calling her employers by their first names. Ultimately, Sergius make her his equal by agreeing to marry her.
Soldering, my dear madam, is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak.
Sergius hands down the above indictment on warfare when he returns from the field. The realities of war have shattered his romantic ideals and left him bitter. The traditional notions of honor and bravery that he carried with him to the battlefield resulted in actions that would have caused widespread and needless death if not for a small coincidence. Consequently, his advancement through the ranks is halted and he resigns from his post. Sergius deeply resents the more pragmatic and efficient methods championed by modern armies, attacking them as cowardly or morally weak. Yet the young Major’s cynicism indicates that Sergius, like Raina, will eventually be able to drop the façade of romanticism and lead a more practical and happy life.
Louka: do you know what higher love is?... Very fatiguing thing to keep up for any length of time, Louka. One feels the need of some relief after it.
Sergius explains to Louka that he finds his romantic pretensions with Raina exhausting. Sergius’ romanticism is making him miserable. The pure and unattainable ideals he aspires to only ensure that he fails. These defeats accumulate, creating a gap between his ideas of what a romantic relationship should be and his actual actions and desires. His relationship with Raina is more akin to a performance than an actual romance. Sergius seeks to escape the pressures of his engagement with the more grounded Louka. Likewise, Raina is fatigued by having to put on a constant romantic performance and is drawn to the Swiss captain. The couple only finds happiness and comfort once they abandon their pretentious notions of higher love and embrace more pragmatic relationships with practical people: Louka and Bluntschli.
It is not much of a library.
The Petkoffs' class pretentions become a running joke throughout Arms and the Man. Each family member proudly speaks of their library, supposedly the only one housed in a private home in all of Bulgaria. The beginning of the third act reveals that the so-called library is merely a sitting room with a single bookshelf. The Petkoffs' desire to embrace romanticized notions of wealth and nobility drives their pretentious behavior and consistently makes them ridiculous. By contrast, Captain Bluntschli’s wealth, articulated in amounts of silverware and blankets, is eminently practical. It is not wealth that George Bernard Shaw skewers, but the romanticism and sense of superiority that can accompany it.
When you get into that noble attitude and speak in that thrilling voice, I admire you; but I find it impossible to believe a single word you say.
With this comment Bluntschli finally succeeds in deflating Raina’s pretensions. Her posturing and manufactured indignation are only a façade; by refusing to fall victim to her deceits, Bluntschli is able to see Raina as she really is. Raina retorts that Bluntschli is the first man who does not take her seriously, but the captain counters her, saying he is the first man who does take her seriously. Bluntschli is somewhat charmed by her performance but realizes that it is only that: a performance, and he is attracted to what she keeps hidden. This moment represents the climax of a trend that has been building since the Swiss captain and Bulgarian lady met: Bluntschli confronts Raina’s romantic delusions and deflates them. These confrontations generate intimacy and mutual attraction. After Bluntschli’s accusation of posturing Raina admits her predilection for being theatrical and engages in perhaps the most honest and self-reflective conversation of her young life.
If I loved you, though you would be as far beneath me as I am beneath you, I would dare to be the equal of my inferior. Would you dare as much if you loved me?
Sergius’ initial ideas on the meaning of bravery are simplistic: he imagines dashing soldiers clashing in great and honorable battles. Yet in talking with Louka he admits that the ability to inflict violence on others does not require great bravery. Louka’s challenge requires a distinct kind of bravery, one that enables someone to disregard social rules and follow their personal desires. Sergius embraces this more nuanced understanding of bravery by proposing to Louka at the play’s end. By acting courageously in this way, the young Major demonstrates the degree to which he has changed. Instead of embracing old romantic ideals, he has adopted more grounded ideas and finds happiness as a result.
I’m a professional soldier! I fight when I have to and am very glad to get out of it when I haven’t to. You’re only an amateur: you think fighting’s an amusement.
After being challenged to a duel, Captain Bluntschli brusquely explains the difference between his own professional attitude and Sergius’ romantic attitude towards fighting. In proposing a duel Sergius believes he can win or demonstrate honor. Bluntschli approaches the duel from a practical standpoint, calculating how best to keep both participants unharmed. Fighting holds no romance for the captain; it is a business and a brutal one at that. Though Sergius interprets his reluctance as a sign of moral weakness, Bluntschli is not cowardly, unwilling or unable to fight. He only knows the destruction fighting can cause all too well. On the other hand, Sergius has faced far fewer battles and fights and is still largely ignorant of the meaning and consequences of violence.
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.
Arms and the Man is concerned foremost with the clash between knowledge and ignorance, or, otherwise stated, between realism and romanticism. Rainaand her fiancé Sergius are steeped in the romanticism of operettas and paperback novels. Bluntschli...