Arms and the Man

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Themes and Colors
Identity, Authenticity, and Self-Expression Theme Icon
Romanticism / Idealism vs. Realism Theme Icon
Class Divisions Theme Icon
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Arms and the Man, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Arms and the Man is very interested in identity—many of its characters (played by actors on the stage) are themselves acting out certain roles, and the play repeatedly questions what constitutes a person’s “true identity.” In addition, the play emphasizes the importance of remaining authentic to yourself: many characters in the play are liberated once they learn to stop posturing or performing for others and express themselves honestly.

Both Raina and Sergius act out different…

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One of the central criticisms of Arms and the Man is of the tendency of people to romanticize or idealize complex realities: in particular love and war. Literary romanticism began to decline right around the time Shaw was born, and the play in many ways illustrates how and why romanticism historically failed: it could not accurately describe fundamental human experiences.

Raina is the play’s most obvious romantic. Her relationship with Sergius (whom the stage directions…

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19th century Europe was a place where divisions between the classes were becoming sharper and more damaging all the time. Industrialization and a widening wage gap gave rise to a socialist movement determined to protect members of the working class from exploitation. Predictably, Shaw, a socialist and activist, seeks to undermine the significance of class divisions in his play. The book persistently points out that division between the classes is unethical and unjust. The play…

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Shaw’s play investigates the difference between young and old, inexperience and maturity. Bluntschli repeatedly distinguishes between the young soldiers and the old soldiers. The young ones are reckless, idealistic, and brave—they carry extra ammunition and run into action. The old soldiers carry food instead of ammo and often flee the battlefield. Raina is young—and she seems even younger than she is. Bluntschli does not take her seriously until he realizes she is 23 (and not…

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Another of the central questions of Arms and the Man concerns the nature of heroism. What makes a hero? What does it mean to be a hero? What responsibilities does such a label convey? At first, Sergius is painted as a hero—he led a successful cavalry charge, displaying immense (in fact foolhardy) bravery. He is physically strong, courageous, and handsome. He thus embodies a very traditional kind of heroism. But it is made clear that…

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