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Mar 31, 2011

Arms and the Man: GB Shah

Arms and the Man is one of the finest anti-romantic comedies on the theme of love and war which comes from the pen of Bernard Shaw, who refused, on the one hand, to believes that soldier are exceptionally heroic and inspired by patriot sentiments. On the other hand, he thought of marriage not as a means of satisfying the personal desire of individual men and women. Thus, as we see these two themes are quite distinct from each other but Shaw has developed his plot in such a way that they are interwoven. Here Shaw’s object is to expose the romantic notion of war with love and marriage.

The play opens with Raina with her romantic notion about her finace, Major Sergius who led a successful cavalry charge against Serbians. She adores his photograph and goes to bed murmuring “my hero, my hero”. Soon afterwards, her view breaks upon her by a run away soldier, Captain Bluntschli, a Swiss by birth and participate in wars as a soldier. Bluntschli torn the mask of her romance that she worn since childhood. Bluntschli’s personality makes such an impression on Raina’s mind that she instantly falls in love with him. As a token of love, she puts self signed photograph in the pocket of the coat pf her father that she offered to Bluntschli to make a safe escape and calls her “my chocolate cream soldier”.


According to Shaw, fighting is as much as a profession as another activity. Life, not death, is the object of a soldier at the battlefields that is why Captain Bluntschli runs away from the battlefield. Shaw believes that it is only young soldier without any experience of warfare that risk their lives rashly like Don Quixote, whereas, experienced soldier have neither sentiment nor enthusiasm and can live as long as they can. First, Captain Bluntschli is more then a carrier of Shaw’s attack of romanticism in war and sentimentalism in love. After it, a soldier who participates in war just for the sake of money. And finally, through Major Sergius, soldier lover, Shaw exposed the militarism.

Major Sergius is not only a false hero of love but also unstable in war. He confesses before Catherine, after returning victorious from the battlefield: “Soldiering, my dear madam, is coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong”. He goes on saying:
“This is the whole secret of the fighting. Find your enemy at disadvantage,
and never,  On any account, fight him on equal terms”.

Like war, love has no romance in Shaw’s eye. Raina’s feeling about war undergoes a cataclysmic change when Bluntschli tells her the truth about the successful cavalry charge. Sergius himself comes back as a changed man. He thought higher love quite unrealistic. Talking to Louka, whom he found more satisfying in sex, about “higher love” he says, is:
“very fatiguing thinking to keep for any length, Louka.
One feels the need of some relief after it”.
Thus, we see that Arms and the Man is a pleasant anti romantic with the amusing exposure of the glory of the war and romantic love.

In this play Shaw has torn the mask of sentimentalism surrounding love and war. While the Roman poet, Virgil, in his Aeneid sings and celebrates the glory of arms and the man, where both are praised for their heroic extolled, but Shaw makes the ironic use of both and satirizing the each elements. Shaw believes that man is an animal of social instinct which is of greater importance than “Arms”. So the supremacy not arms or heroic but essential humanity that is asserted. Due to which Captain Bluntschli runs away from the battlefield and instead of cartridges he carries chocolates to the front to show that man is not heroic but a creature of blood and flesh whom T.S. Eliot called “A handful of dust”.

One would agree with William Irvine that Shaw’s attitude toward war was profoundly affected by Ibsenite opposition of romantic and reality, ideal and real. But “what he objects to” as Chesterton says very well “is not so much war as the romantic attractiveness of war”.

Thus, the nacked realism of human life is framed into the powerful frame of didactism where the note of war and reality of love makes such an impression which makes Shaw murmuring like Tolstoy:
“There shell be no war if you must, For god sake no war songs”
This is what G.K. Chesterton means:
“The world should not encourage a rational lover because
 he would never get married and world should not encourage
 a rational soldier because he would run away”.
Like Tolstoy, Shaw believes that romantic is only butchery and romantic love is only lust. 

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