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.
Class Divisions Theme Icon

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 maintains that in fact there is no inherent difference between a member of the working class and a member of the aristocracy beyond the way they are treated by society.

Louka is the most adamant socialist voice in this play. She insists she does not have the “soul of a servant” and refuses to think of herself as subservient simply because she was born into the working class. She falls in love with Sergius and calls Raina by her first name. In doing so she eschews convention and promotes her own equality.

Bluntschli persistently identifies himself as a poor soldier, and loves Raina because she was kind to him (and in fact fell in love with him) before she knew he owned a chain of hotels and therefore had a claim to a great fortune. Perhaps Raina’s greatest virtue is her ability to see past class divisions. This is especially notable considering how wrapped up in the meaning of wealth and aristocracy the Petkoffs are. They speak down to the servants and seemingly cannot go five minutes without mentioning that they have a library (an indicator of unusual wealth.) Ultimately, the play depicts those obsesses with their wealth and class to be foolish and shallow, and further suggests that those locked into their class positions are stuck acting a role that keeps them from their true selves, from actual happiness.

Class Divisions ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Class Divisions appears in each act of Arms and the Man. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Class Divisions Quotes in Arms and the Man

Below you will find the important quotes in Arms and the Man related to the theme of Class Divisions.
Act 2 Quotes

She is so grand that she never dreams that any servant could dare to be disrespectful to her; but if she once suspects that you are defying her, out you go.

Related Characters: Nicola (speaker), Louka, Catherine Petkoff
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

In the garden of the Petkoff's house, Nicola, an older manservant, is chastizing Louka for her bad manners. Nicola has admitted that Catherine Petkoff is so snooty that she probably doesn't even realize Louka is behaving disrespectfully, but if Catherine were to ever realize this, Louka would be fired immediately. Nicola's words reveal the complex social dynamics between servants and their employers. According to him, Catherine's elitist arrogance makes her naïve; she thinks so little of servants that she cannot imagine they might defy her. This is a powerful concept in light of the fact that this play was written in the midst of severe class tensions, and shortly before the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Nicola's words suggest that the rich have blinded themselves to the realities of life with their privilege, but this blindness cannot last forever.


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You have the soul of a servant, Nicola.
Yes: that’s the secret of success in service.

Related Characters: Louka (speaker), Nicola (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Nicola has warned Louka about being disrespectful to Catherine, claiming that if Louka continues along this path she will be fired, but Louka is dismissive of Nicolai's warnings. Both servants have revealed they know important secrets about the Petkoffs, but Louka remains disdainful of Nicola's loyalty to the family. She tells him he has "the soul of a servant." Louka's harsh words reveal her resentment of her lot in life; despite the rigid class system in which she was born, Louka considers herself equal to the family she serves. In fact, the idea that anyone would not see themselves as equal to others is abhorrent to her, as is conveyed by her harsh remarks to Nicola. For Louka, being a servant should never be the defining aspect of one's identity.

Act 3 Quotes

How easy it is to talk! Men never seem to me to grow up: they all have schoolboy’s ideas. You don’t know what true courage is…I would marry the man I loved, which no other queen in Europe has the courage to do...You dare not: you would marry a rich man’s daughter because you would be afraid of what other people would say of you.

Related Characters: Louka (speaker), Major Sergius Saranoff
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Nicola has offered Louka some of the money Sergius gave him, but she has refused, telling him that he is more of a servant than a husband. Nicola leaves, and Sergius enters. Louka questions whether Sergius is actually courageous; when Sergius insists that he is, Louka responds by telling him "you don't know what true courage is," because he is choosing to marry "a rich man's daughter" rather than Louka, the woman he loves. Here Louka emphasizes her resolutely principled attitude to the world, suggesting that she is the moral centre of the play. Although she loves Sergius, she does not speak to him with the over-the-top romantic words of Raina. Rather, she addresses him harshly, holding him to account for his hypocritical behavior. 

This passage also contains an important claim about the true nature of courage. According to the traditional, romantic ideals that characterize the society depicted in the play, courage consists of masculine, patriotic acts, such as boldly fighting for one's country. Louka, however, suggests that these are "schoolboy's ideas," and that real courage consists of daring to live and love honestly, committing oneself to the principle that all people are equal, and not adjusting one's behavior to the expectations of others. 

My rank is the highest known in Switzerland: I am a free citizen.

Related Characters: Captain Bluntschli (speaker)
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Although at first hesitant to marry Raina because of her age, when Bluntschli finds out that Raina is actually twenty-three, not seventeen, he asks her parents if he may propose to her. They respond that Raina is accustomed to great wealth and a high rank, and Bluntschli describes the fortune he possesses from his hotels. Major Petkoff, awed, asks if Bluntschli is "Emperor of Switzerland," but Bluntschli replies that he has the highest rank in Switzerland: "a free citizen." This claim emphasizes the fact that Bluntschli has decidedly modern ideas about class, money, and equality. Although he is hugely wealthy, to Bluntschli this is less important than being free. 

Indeed, Bluntschli's words here align him less to the Petkoffs and more to the other wise character in the play: Louka. Both Bluntschli and Louka possess the belief that being a free and equal citizen is far more important than rank and wealth. Furthermore, both suggest that high rank can in fact inhibit one's freedom, as it can make people obsessed with society's expectations, leading them to behave in a false, posturing manner.