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Jan 7, 2018

Arms and the Man

Character of Louka in Arms and the Man 

Shaw conceived of Louka as a strong willed woman, necessary for his dramatic purpose of exposing the vanity of the upper-class and the political purpose of showing the socialist principle of showing equality among individuals in a society. It must be said that it was daring attempt on Shaw’s part to lead and raise a maidservant to the status of an aristocratic lady. But he does not do this as a kind of poetic justice or as a matter of mercy; he makes her capable of realising her aims and object by her worth as a human being and by her strong will power.

In the beginning of the play Louka is presented as a maid-servant having some sort of tension with the lady she serves. She behaves in defiant manners and her physical movements, gestures and postures produce the impression of haughtiness and discontent. The audience ascribe this to typical feminine jealousy of a servant for the lady of the same age, but in Act II they understand that she is Raina’s rival in love and is eyeing something above her position. Her confidence is generated from some of the secrets she knows about the ladies of the house. Always on the lookout for those sorts of things, she discovers a terrible truth about the fugitive in Raina’s chamber at night and keeps it for use in future.

In Act II Louka is given a loud voice justifying her position. While being instructed threateningly by the middle-aged maid servant Nicola, she scornfully rejects his advice and brands him as a person with “the soul of a servant”. From Nicola, however, we come to know the predicament of Louka and her father “on his little farm”. Shaw here brings out the conflicts between rich and the poor, fuming in the backyard of patriotism and nationalism. Shaw makes this explicit by making Nicola fully aware of the effects any confrontation with the aristocracy will bring about. It is not that Louka is not conscious of this; in fact, her defiance of the upper-class people can be ascribed to the angst deposited in her. But while Nicola chooses to reap profit by serving the upper-class and thereby cashing on their weaknesses, Louka resorts to using her youth and feminine skills backed up by her will-power to trap an upper-class gentleman.

In Act II Louka employs her youth and charms when she finds Sergius posing as a playboy. From the familiarity of their conversation we can understand that this is not the first time that Sergius engages himself in relaxation from the pressure of higher love” for Raina. As soon as Louka detects his susceptibility or vulnerability, she proceeds to break Raina’s pose of higher love by informing him of the presence of another man in her chamber at night. She does this in order to bring her down to her level of an ordinary human being before Sergius. Even she goes to the extent of saying “I am worth six of her”, meaning that she is capable of serving or satisfying the six different persons in Sergius, which Raina, according to her, is not capable of. But it would be an injustice to the character if we say that Louka uses only her youthful charms; we find her possessing subtle power of observation, by which she can surely foretell Raina’s move away from Sergius in the case of the fugitive’s return. No other person, including Raina could have this kind anticipation because Louka observes her from a pragmatic position:

“I know the difference between the sort of manner you and she put on before one another and the real manner.”

Thus she creates agitations in Sergius’s mind quite consciously and deliberately in order that she may win him away by exposing both of them. But since she is intelligent enough to anticipate that he will not believe her unless and until he discovers the truth himself, she lets him out to find the rest of the truth.

In Act III Louka enters the stage with her usual “bold free gait” with the marked difference that her left sleeve is “looped up to the shoulder with a brooch, shewing her naked arm, with a broad gilt bracelet covering the bruise”. She does this intentionally in order to remind Sergius of the mark he made on her arm, and perhaps to display proudly the mark as a gift of love in a sort of masochistic exhibitionism. Nicola, as a man with practical wisdom can sense something wrong with her, and that is why he proceeds to warn her about her unusual fashion. Here once again she reiterates her contempt for his servile mentality and refuses to accept 10 levas from him as share of the bribes. Her basic independent nature is to be found in the following words:

“You were born to be a servant. I was not. When you set up your shop you will be everybody’s servant instead of somebody’s servant.”

She demonstrates the place she is eying to reach at by seating herself ‘regally’ in Sergius’s chair, an act which the audience notice with surprise and amusement. As Nicola understands her and humbly makes way for Sergius, she once again attracts Sergius now with the mark of bruise, which she uses as a kind of bait for him. When Sergius tries to compensate for the bruise by offering her an amorous favour, she rejects it straight and tries to make him understand that she wants more. She entangles him in a sort of emotional cheating with the protestation of the courage she can show in the case of realising her true love:

“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.”

Here by implication of the logic Louka wants him to come out of the class-barrier and accept her on equal terms. When Sergius expresses his inability and insults her by making a comparison between Raina and her in terms of the difference between heaven and earth, she returns this and the charge of her being jealous of Raina with a bold assertion:

“I have no reason to be. She will never marry you. The man I told you of has come back. She will marry the Swiss.”

Thus she succeeds in creation an emotional storm in his mind and in making him confess: “If I choose to love you, I dare marry you in spite of all Bulgaria.” In true chivalric fashion he even pronounces an oath, which she readily jumps upon to win him away in the next encounter.

In the final encounter with Sergius Louka gathers all her strength of mind and risks being caught up in eavesdropping. However, quite unexpectedly she finds a supporter in Bluntschli, who defends her act by saying that he too once committed this kind of act as his “life was at stake”. Louka takes the cue from him and boldly declares her “love was at stake”. At this point we find Raina insulting her from her supposed social superiority and thus quite unknowingly provoking her to disclose the truth about her chocolate cream soldier. Louka is further insulted after the discovery of the “chocolate cream soldier”, and she turns the situation in her favour by forcing Sergius to apologise to her. As he still clings to his false heroic ideals, he apologises and falls motionless in her trap.

In fine, we can say that through the presentation of Louka, Shaw illustrates once again the triumph of women in the chase of the men of their desire. There may be perhaps another reason: she is necessary as the woman for Sergius because she can balance the excess of romantic ideas and impractical dreams in him. But the audience cannot be sure of her capacity; for, immediately after becoming Major Sergius Saranoff’s “affianced bride”, she addresses the lady she was serving by her name and tries to scandalise Raina by openly expressing her doubt of the latter’s being “fonder of him than Sergius”. The audience and more particularly the readers can take note of the fact that she does not utter a single word after that. She remains speechless even at the climax of the action when the chocolate cream soldier becomes Raina’s man amidst many revelations and amazements.

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