Arms and the Man

Arms and the Man Symbols, Allegory and Motifs


Chocolate serves as an enduring and complex symbol throughout Arms and the Man. When first introduced it serves as a symbol of Captain Bluntschli’s pragmatism and disdain for romanticism. Instead of carrying his cartridges, which are later revealed to be useless, the Swiss mercenary carries chocolate. During this time period, soldiers often carried chocolate with low milk content as rations; such chocolate rarely spoiled, even in humid conditions, and could provide a significant amount of calories, even in small portions (Satran 26). Some readers may, like Raina, incorrectly assume Bluntschli was carrying a luxurious treat, but it was not an indulgence, but a practical ration for the field.

Major Petkoff's Coat

Major Petkoff's coat is the focus of one of the most comical moments of the play. Bluntschli arrives at first to return the coat that was used to smuggle him away after his escape. A coat features in the anecdote that is floating around about a Bulgarian fugitive, so the Major searches for his coat as proof that his house was not involved. Naturally, his old coat is not in the blue closet where it hung before Bluntschli's escapade. However, Catherine repeatedly insists the coat is right where he left it - despite her knowledge to the contrary. Catherine wagers her husband a piece of jewelry that the coat is in the blue closet, and Nicola proves her right - as she must have returned it to the blue closet during lunch. The coat is a both an object of comedy and a symbol of the Major's incompetence. Even he is quick to believe he was in error, though he had seen with his own eyes just hours before that his coat was missing. When he finally pulls the coat on, he finds it has stretched in the back, connoting that Bluntschli is more a man than the Major, both literally and figuratively.


The Petkoff Library

The Petkoff family makes a big deal about their library, "the only one in Bulgaria" (17). It is a particular point of pride for the Petkoffs, as it communicates their upper-class status and cultured ways. Petkoff tells the Russian soldiers under his command about his library; Raina tells Bluntschli (when he is yet an unnamed fugitive) in order to impress him and communicate her family's civilized air. However, in the stage directions for Act III, it is revealed that the "library" is nothing more than a single shelf of books. The library is ultimately a symbol for the Petkoffs' pretension. 

The Electric Bell

Like the library, Catherine's pride over the new electric bell is a symbol of the Petkoffs' class pretensions. In her mind, civilized people do not yell for their servants. The Major teases her about the bell, and her newfound habits of washing often - and he continues to yell for Nicola. Their conversation in Act II reveals both the Major's ignorance and Catherine's desire to be a part of good society. When she presses the bell in Act III, the Major asks here why she is showing it off. Even he knows the bell is more for performance than convenience.

Sergius' Portrait

Sergius' portrait in Raina's room is revered as if it were a piece of religious iconography. When she learns of his victory in the charge, she lifts the portrait from her table and exalts upon his image. However, this is not a true moment of romantic awe. The stage directions reveal that she does not show any "bodily affection" for Sergius' image (5). Sergius' victory momentarily makes Raina feel her "ideas" of romantic love are now "real" (3). She feels she should love her venerated war hero Sergius, as a woman of social standing. However, as Bluntschli's arrival is about to prove, Raina's love is nothing more than a performance of how she thinks love should appear.