Two Themes of George Bernard Shaw’ s Plays Arms and the Man
Arms and the Man is one of George Bernard Shaw”s successfully written plays that have become predominant and globally renowned. Shaw”s play leads itself to two themes that people can relate to, which are the importance of war and the essentials to true love and marriage. These themes are interwoven, for Shaw believed that while war is evil and stupid, and marriage desirable and good, both had become wrapped in romantic illusions which led to disastrous wars and also to unhappy marriages. 1 The theme of war applies itself into the plot within the first few pages of the melodrama, when the Bulgarians are at war with the Serbs.
Romance is portrayed by the humorous and ironic relationships of Raina, Sergius and Bluntschli. Unfortunately, due to society”s lack of comprehension and failing to learn from our past errors, we are destined to repeat the majority of them. Another act of ignorance found in this play is the attitude of the Petkoffs towards their material advantages and their possessions of wealth, bringing them personal superiority. Arms and the Man is “as fresh and up-to-date today” as when Shaw first produced his play in 1894. 2
War is an unfortunate condition that exists when a group feels its vital interests are at stake and seeks to impose its beliefs or control on a rival group through the use of overt force. Shaw was a socialist and an ardent pacifist. 3 He did not agree to the idea of war, and he wrote about it to warn us, future generations, not to commit the same crime. The romantic view of war (he held) is based on the idealistic notation that men fight because they are heroes, and that the soldier who takes the biggest risks wins the greatest glory and is the greatest hero.
Raina had imagined war as an exciting sport; after talking with Captain Bluntschli, one of the defeated, she now sees it as a dreadful reality. 5 Sergius, too, has learned something of the realities of war, and is so disgusted by them that he has sent in his resignation, saying ‘Soldiering… is the coward”s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm”s way when you are week. “6 This theme of war helps Shaw”s Arms and the Man to continue as a fresh and current play, as it was in 1894.
The battle of Slivnica was remarkable mainly for its surprise ending wherein the Bulgarians defeated the invading Serbians much more by good luck than good management, and went to ally themselves with Austrian Hungary thereby bringing World War I one small step closer. 7 Many other wars have taken place since then, and yet man has still to learn that war is not the answer. The romance in the play is portrayed by the humorous and ironic relationships of Raina, Sergius and Bluntschli. In Arms and the Man Raina Petkoff intends, at the time the play opens, to become the wife of Major Sergius Saranoff, who is then away fighting the Serbs.
News has come home to Raina and her mother that Sergius has ridden bravely at the head of a victorious cavalry charge, and Raina rejoices because she can now believe that her affianced is ‘just as splendid and noble as he looks! That the world is really a glorious world for woman who can see its glory and men who can act its romance! ” In the opening scene of the play, after adoring Sergius” portrait, Raina goes to bed murmuring ‘My hero! My hero! ” This is a romantic view of life, but then reality suddenly breaks in upon her.
An enemy solider, Captain Bluntschli the “chocolate-cream soldier”, escaping from gunfire in the Bulgarian countryside, scales the balcony of a mountain estate and lands in the bedroom of a young woman whose father and fiance are fighting on the front. He is desperate through exhaustion and fear, and Raina sneers at him. Nevertheless, when the pursuers come to search the house, Raina hides the fugitive and denies having seen him. She also feeds him chocolates, they are his passion; he carries them – like all professional soldiers, he says – into war instead of bullets.
Bluntschli is Shaw”s affectionate parody of a Swiss pragmatist, level-headed and unemotional. It amuses Shaw to discombobulate him by placing him, initially, in a situation where his reasonableness cannot help him much. Raina no longer thinks of war as a romantic game, nor does she any longer think of marriage as the mating of a beautiful heroine and a ornamental and fickle Sergius. She takes as her husband the plain Bluntschli, whose common sense and six hotels in Switzerland will give her stability and comfort.
The realities of love and marriage become one of the most frequent themes in Shaw”s plays throughout the remainder of his long life. 9 The complexities of love and marriage has not changed much over the years. For example, love and relationships were just as obscure in 1894 as they are in 1998. This makes Shaw”s play recent and the issues it deals with are understandable. Shaw believed that it was foolish to act as though the possession of wealth, or any other material advantages, is a sign of personal superiority.
People may not any longer think it impressive to have an electric bell in the house, but there are countries nowadays where families with television sets and motor cars feel just as stupidly proud as the Petkoffs did with their bell and library. 10 Many people world-wide today consider themselves above others and look down on those with less materialistic possessions, as if they were inferior. Having more materialistic possessions and wealth does not necessarily mean it will bring you happiness, this is not the reality of life at all.
As a mater of fact, those with less materialistic treasures tend to live a happier and peaceful life. This is because their efforts are not concentrated on wealth but rather on family and friends who support each other. Money and wealth can control a person to become greedy and require more. It is much better to live a life of harmony and peace, blessed for what to have, than to live worrying about the things that you do not have. That is a lesson Shaw is trying to teach us. We should learn from the Petkoffs and acquire a better attitude towards life and its materialistic treasures.
If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience? ” – George Bernard Shaw. Furthermore, Arms and the Man is “as fresh and up-to-date today” as when Shaw first produced his play in 1894. Shaw”s play leads itself to two themes that people can relate to, which are the importance of war and the essentials to true love and marriage. The theme of war applies itself into the plot within the first few pages of the play, when the Bulgarians are at war with the Serbs.
Romance is portrayed by the humorous and ironic relationships of Raina, Sergius and Bluntschli. Shaw believed that it was foolish to act as though the possession of wealth, or any other material advantages, is a sign of personal superiority. Moreover, Arms and the Man is a successful play and will continue to prosper due to the nature of its themes, war and romance being contemporary with today”s society. Perhaps Shaw’s best ability might have been his ability to attract attention to himself, his ideas, and his works. This ability never failed him.