Arms and the Man

Arms and the Man Summary and Analysis of Act III


Act III opens with Captain Bluntschli hard at work in the so-called Petkoff library, which is really just a room with a single bookcase, coordinating troop movements and preparing papers for Sergius’ signature. Major Petkoff sits reading the paper and occasionally looks up to ask Bluntschli if he can help; Sergius stands over the Captain, clearly frustrated by his superior abilities. The Major wishes he had the old coat that disappeared from the blue closet. Catherine insists that it is there and the Major, who checked before Bluntschli’s arrival, bets her a piece of jewelry that it is not. Nicola is sent to retrieve it and reports that it was hanging in the blue closet as Catherine said. The poor Major is completely befuddled.

Bluntschli finishes the paperwork and dispatches Sergius to implement the orders. Afterward he confidentially asks the Major to go with Sergius and oversee him. Major Petkoff agrees, but before leaving asks Catherine to accompany him, as she will be more intimidating to the troops than he. The Swiss mercenary marvels at the Bulgarian Major’s incompetency.

Left alone with the Captain, Raina tells Bluntschli that someone relayed the anecdote about a Swiss mercenary breaking into a Bulgarian lady’s room to Sergius and Major Petkoff. Bluntschli is apologetic, claiming he only told a single close and trusted acquaintance. Raina retorts that if Sergius knew the anecdote was about her, he would challenge Captain Bluntschli to a duel. She claims that lying to Sergius has made her distraught, mounting an indignant performance for Captain Bluntschli’s benefit. She insists ridiculously that she has only told two lies in her life: when she told the Bulgarian soldiers there was no Serbian officer in her room and when she fabricated the story about the chocolate cream soldier decoration.

Bluntschli tells her directly that he does not believe her pretentious performance, disarming her. Raina admits that she has always engaged in romantic posturing, even as a child. Bluntschli is the only one who has been able to see through her airs. She worries that Bluntschli must despise her, yet the Captain tells her he admires and adores her all the same. Raina wonders aloud what Bluntschli thought of the portrait she gave him: a photograph of herself signed and dedicated to the chocolate cream soldier. She slipped the portrait into the pocket of the coat Bluntschli was smuggled out of the house in. Bluntschli reveals he never searched the coat pockets, missing the signed portrait. He pawned the jacket to keep it safe during the war, repurchasing it afterward, and is unsure if the portrait is still in the pocket. Raina is upset to hear that he pawned the coat, accusing him of having a “low, shopkeeping mind” (53).

Louka enters the room and delivers a stack of letters to Captain Bluntschli. One of the telegrams informs the Swiss soldier that his father has died. Raina is filled with compassion for the Captain, but Bluntschli’s response is oddly suppressed: he seems mildly remorseful and surprised. Bluntschli announces he must leave immediately to manage his inheritance: a chain of hotels. After he leaves, Louka teases Raina about the Captain’s lack of emotion; overwhelmed, Raina flees from the room almost in tears.

Nicola notices the odd way Louka is wearing her sleeve in order to hide her bruise and scolds her. Nicola reveals that Sergius gave him twenty levas out of foolishness and the Swiss mercenary gave him ten levas strategically, to thank him for supporting Catherine and Raina’s lies about him. Nicola offers some of the money to Louka, who scornfully rejects it, saying he will always be someone’s servant. Angered, Nicola replies that he was the one who shaped Louka into a lady. He says he would rather have Louka for a customer than a wife, insinuating Sergius might have married her in another life. Louka replies that she would rather have Nicola as a servant than a husband. Nicola advises her that in order to truly be a lady she must act as if she expected to always have her way. Louka huffily steps away.

Sergius enters and apologizes for interrupting; Nicola replies that he was only chiding Louka for reading the library books, behavior that is “above her station” (57). Sergius crosses to Louka and checks her arm for the bruise, offering to cure it. Louka rebuffs him and asks him if he is a truly brave man. Sergius replies assuredly that he is. The maid wonders if he would have the courage to marry a woman he loved, even if she were from a lower class. Sergius claims that he would, but that he is betrothed to Raina. Louka replies that now that Bluntschli has returned Raina will never marry Sergius, revealing the Swiss mercenary is Raina’s secret love.

Sergius is indignant, refusing to believe that the romantic Raina could betray him. Louka perceptively points out that Raina would refuse to believe the romantic Sergius could betray her, but he has regardless. Sergius realizes he mocks his ideals with every action he takes. Then, in a strange turn, he tells Louka she is his and if he touches her again it will be as his bride. Louka, skeptical, exits as Bluntschli returns, preoccupied and worried.

Sergius confronts Bluntschli and challenges him to a duel; the Captain accepts without knowing exactly what the duel is about. Sergius proposes they fight with sabers on horseback, but Bluntschli prefers fighting on the ground, as horseback is too dangerous and he does not intend to kill Sergius. As a sword instructor, the Captain is confident he can disarm Sergius without wounding him. Raina enters as they are settling the details of the duel and anxiously demands to know the cause.

Sergius accuses Raina of loving Bluntschli, saying she had given the Captain “favors” that he never enjoyed (61). Bluntschli educates Sergius, explaining that he entered the room at gunpoint and threatened Raina with death if she resisted. Raina confirms the story. Sergius still insists something must have passed between the Swiss soldier and his fiancée, as Bluntschli came back to see her.

Sergius reveals that Bluntschli’s trusted acquaintance did not tell him about the incident, and Raina deduces that Louka must have told him of her infatuation with Bluntschli. She throws an accusation back at Sergius, saying she saw him holding Louka in the garden. Sergius realizes their relationship is a farce and withdraws from the duel, saying he can only duel men, not machines like the Captain.

Raina informs Sergius that Louka is engaged to Nicola, who is now his new rival. Raina accuses Sergius of using Louka to spy on her and Bluntschli. When Sergius responds with insults, Raina turns indignantly to Bluntschli, who explains that Sergius must defend himself somehow. Bluntschli asks where Louka is and Raina accuses her of listening outside the door. Though Sergius indignantly defends her, he finds her waiting in the hall. Louka, unembarrassed, explains that her love is at stake, a love stronger than anything Raina may feel even for her chocolate cream soldier. Sergius is confused, thinking Louka is referring to the cake decoration Raina prepared earlier.

At this moment Major Petkoff enters the room, claiming someone has been wearing his coat, which has become torn and stretched out. Nicola brings in the coat from Catherine, who has mended it. Raina takes it from Nicola and helps her father put it on, deftly removing the photograph as she does. As the Major sits down he looks for the picture, saying he found something strange: a photograph of Raina with a dedication to her chocolate cream soldier. He cannot find it and his suspicions are aroused: he questions Nicola about Raina’s story about the smashed cake decoration. Petkoff congratulates Sergius on being the chocolate cream soldier. As Sergius angrily explains he is not, Bluntschli admits to being Raina’s chocolate cream soldier.

Major Petkoff demands Raina tell him which of the two men she is engaged to. She replies that she is betrothed to neither, as Sergius is in love with Louka. Petkoff angrily tells Sergius that Louka is already engaged to Nicola. The old servant gracefully comes forward to explain the engagement was only to protect Louka and he looks forward to having her as a customer now that she is marrying into the nobility. Impressed with his practicality, Bluntschli announces he will hire Nicola as a hotel manager.

Louka demands Sergius apologize for hurting her in the garden and he does with a kiss, making her his bride. Catherine enters to see Sergius embracing Louka and is appalled. Bluntschli, however, congratulates Sergius on his practical decision. Louka defends herself to Catherine, saying she has done Raina no harm, as she is destined to marry the Swiss soldier anyway. Bluntschli is incredibly surprised by Louka’s remark, not having known about Raina’s love for him. Bluntschli calls the idea of their marrying nonsense; he describes Raina as a young girl of seventeen. He admits to being romantic and somewhat foolish, having returned to the house to see her again, but protests that she is only a child.

Hurt and angry, Raina retorts that she is actually twenty-three. Bluntschli absorbs this shock and then immediately asks Major Petkoff for Raina’s hand in marriage. The Petkoffs hesitate, explaining that Raina is accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle, one beyond the means of a common captain. In response Bluntschli pulls out the telegram announcing his father’s death and reads aloud about his inheritance of the hotels, which include an obscene number of items (i.e. 10,000 dessert spoons and 2,400 quilts). Petkoff childishly asks if he is the Emperor of Switzerland but Bluntschli replies that he is a free citizen.

Raina initially rejects Bluntschli’s proposal, explaining that she cannot be bought with things. Bluntschli refuses to accept her answer, reminding her of the kindness she showed him when he came to her as a beggar. Raina finally succumbs to her chocolate cream soldier and agrees. Bluntschli prepares to leave, instructing the Major on the movement of a regiment, asking Sergius to postpone his marriage to Louka until he can return, and promising to come back in two weeks.


The third act continues the farcical tone introduced in the first and second acts: Major Petkoff betting on the replaced coat and looking in vain for the photograph snatched from right under his nose, for example. Arms and the Man ends in a classical comedic fashion: all farcical misunderstandings are resolved and crossed lovers end up properly paired and sorted. Bluntschli and Raina and Sergius and Louka finish the play perfectly matched; each of the formerly delusional romantics is paired with a more pragmatic partner that pulls them towards realism. Even practical Nicola, though robbed of his fiancée, finishes the play properly sorted as a hotel manager. The farcical nature of the play’s humor and the conventional ending makes Arms and the Man one of George Bernard Shaw’s most accessible and best loved plays.

The play’s neat resolution comes when each character reveals and embraces their true selves. Raina abandons her indignant romantic posturing after being gently confronted by Bluntschli, who enjoys her theatrical performances but sees through them. Subsequently she embraces a more grounded self, rejecting Sergius for the practical Swiss Captain who is not deceived by her acts. Bluntschli himself reveals his hidden inner romantic, explaining his compulsion to see Raina again against all odds. Like Raina, Sergius rejects his high romantic notions and embraces an idea of love that is comfortable and practical. He asks pragmatic Louka for her hand in marriage. By dropping their facades and embracing their inner nature, the characters are able to find happiness and their true place.

The third act elaborates on the work’s overriding theme: the clash between ignorance and knowledge, usually between the Swiss captain and the Bulgarian family. Captain Bluntschli challenges the incompetence of the two Bulgarian Majors, instructing men who outrank him in how to handle the logistics of troop movements. This leads to a comedic moment when Major Petkoff displays his severe lack of ability; having been assigned by Captain Bluntschli to monitor Sergius, he requests his wife come aid him. Captain Bluntschli also confronts Sergius with the details of his stay in Raina’s room, enlightening him and ostensibly preventing a wasteful and violent duel.

The play’s final act undermines Sergius’ initial ideas about bravery, which correspond to daring battlefield maneuvers and other theatrical gestures. When conversing with Louka, Sergius admits that any man of any station can exhibit crude bravery: the kind needed to participate in a cavalry charge and attack enemies. Louka identifies a more subtle and perhaps difficult kind of bravery: the kind necessary to break social mores. Such bravery would be needed to openly love and marry someone from a lower social class. Though hesitant, Sergius proves he has this more difficult bravery by acknowledging his love of Louka before the Petkoff family and agreeing to marry her.

Finally, the third act reveals the discrepancy between station and power. Though the effects of class and gender are written all over the work, power dynamics in Arms and the Man do not always correspond to class and gender norms. The separation between the Petkoffs and their help is rather rigid, with a formal code of behavior. Yet Louka, though a servant, regularly challenges the upper-class Petkoffs and successfully manipulates Sergius, pushing him to marry her by cleverly presenting him her hand and reminding him of his promise. Likewise, Bluntschli, who is a captain, regularly commands the majors who outrank him.

Women regularly wield power in the play, despite the restrictions of their position. Women may not be allowed to fight in battle but Catherine still accompanies her husband to the field to help him discipline his troops. Catherine also skillfully manipulates the bumbling Major, convincing him his coat has always been in the blue closet and drawing his attention away from the connection between Raina and Bluntschli. Louka represents a similar subversive power dynamic, using her wit to help push Sergius into committing to her. Even Raina, a more orthodox feminine figure, uses her quick thinking to hide her relationship with Bluntschli from her father and fiancé. In a play where knowledge is power, the women in general wield much more information than the men. Indeed, the person of highest station in the play according to contemporary class and gender norms, Major Petkoff, is also the most foolish and least in-control of all the characters.