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.
Heroism Theme Icon

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 Sergius’s actions are considered by more seasoned soldiers to be farcical. Though Raina and her mother fawn over Sergius, in part because Raina is betrothed to him, others find him more of a clown than a hero.

Bluntschli is a kind of “anti-hero.” He is dubbed by Raina to be the “chocolate cream soldier”—a moniker that inspires images of weakness and sweetness—because he typically carries chocolates rather than extra ammo. He is older, more modest looking, and doesn’t believe courage is a virtue. But by the end of the play he is revealed to be both a better soldier and a far more desirable husband than Sergius, and wins Raina’s affections.

The question of heroism is a rich and diverse one. By wondering about what makes a hero, Shaw engages various lines of thinking. What do heroes mean to culture? Who ought to be a hero? And what of literary heroes?—Shaw was writing in a time of social and political upheaval. The clash between socialism and capitalism was growing more contentious, and the rise of new industrial technologies was exacerbating the already sharp class divisions and changing the cultural landscape. It was accordingly a time of artistic and literary upheaval as well: literary Romanticism no longer seemed fit to make sense of or address contemporary human problems. The Byronic, romantic hero had been forsaken—what would the new literary heroes look like? By engaging these questions about heroism Shaw is asking questions about the future of culture and art.

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Heroism ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Arms and the Man related to the theme of Heroism.
Act 1 Quotes

I am a Swiss, fighting merely as a professional soldier. I joined Servia because it came first on the road from Switzerland.

Related Characters: Captain Bluntschli (speaker), Raina Petkoff
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

The sounds of gunfire have erupted, and Louka has urged Catherine and Raina to bolt the windows. The windows of Raina's bedroom, however, cannot be locked, and a soldier in Servian uniform has climbed in. He has spoken threateningly to Raina, but she seems unafraid of him, and reluctantly agrees to hide him when Louka and her mother enter. Once they are alone again, the soldier, Captain Bluntschli, explains that he is not actually Servian but a Swiss professional soldier, who joined the Servian army simply "because it came first on the road from Switzerland." This statement is a direct contradiction of romantic, nationalist understandings of heroism and war.

From a romantic perspective, Bluntschli should be fervently patriotic, and motivated to behave courageously in battle out of fierce pride and love for his country. In contrast to this ideal, Bluntschli chose Servia at random, and does not seem personally invested in the outcome of the war. His role as a professional soldier undermines the notion that war is a matter of patriotism or courage, as Bluntschli's motivation for participating in the war is purely economic. Indeed, this reflects broader trends in the shifting understanding of war toward the end of the 19th century. During this period, people were becoming more critical of war, and particularly of the way that men of the working class were made to fight, suffer, and die on behalf of high-ranking officers who would get the most benefit from victory.


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Oh you are a very poor soldier—a chocolate cream soldier! Come, cheer up.

Related Characters: Raina Petkoff (speaker), Captain Bluntschli
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Captain Bluntschli has told Raina about the comic behavior of the Bulgarian forces, who––led by Sergius––charged ahead with such bravado that the Servians burst out laughing. Raina is offended, revealing to Bluntschli that she is engaged to Sergius. Bluntschli apologizes, but when Raina tells him he must leave he almost begins to cry. Pitying him, Raina calls him "a chocolate cream soldier" and decides to try and cheer him up. Raina's statement here exemplifies the unusual dynamic between her and Bluntschli. It is clear that Raina is more used to playing out the traditional gender roles of men and women, with Sergius embodying the ideal of a dominant, fearless soldier, and Raina a supportive, romantic woman. However, her affection for Bluntschli suggests that there is something appealing about his honest vulnerability.

Act 2 Quotes

Dearest, all my deeds have been yours. You inspired me. I have gone through the war like a knight in a tournament with his lady looking down on him!

Related Characters: Major Sergius Saranoff (speaker), Raina Petkoff
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Sergius has announced that he no longer wants to be a soldier, declaring that soldiers never want to engage in battle on equal terms. He has also mentioned hearing a rumor that two Bulgarian women sheltered a Swiss man fighting with the Servian army; Catherine and Raina have pretended to be horrified, although of course in reality they are the two Bulgarian women being described. In this passage, Sergius grandly dedicates his deeds to Raina, and compares himself to "a knight in a tournament with his lady looking down on him." Sergius's words confirm that he and Raina live in a fantasy world filled with heroic archetypes and over-the-top romance, leaving them out of touch with reality.

Sergius also emphasizes the idea that Raina is a spectator to the drama of his life, just as she is a spectator to the events of the romantic novels she reads. Sergius's performance of bravado is executed for Raina's benefit; indeed, the fact that Sergius believes Raina is "looking down on him" while he is in battle explains why he behaves in such a theatrical, swaggering manner. 

Which of the six of me is the real man? That’s the question that torments me. One of them is a hero, another a buffoon, another a humbug, another perhaps a bit of a blackguard. And one, at least, is a coward—jealous, like all cowards.

Related Characters: Major Sergius Saranoff (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Sergius has declared his love for Raina in exaggerated, dramatic terms, and the couple embrace. However, Louka then comes outside and Raina exits, and it immediately becomes clear that Sergius is infatuated with Louka. Louka has resisted his advances, causing Sergius to grow frustrated. In this passage, he ponders the idea that there are six versions of himself, all different from one another. Note that of the five examples he gives, only one––"a hero"––is positive. The rest are decidedly negative, suggesting that Sergius's arrogance and bravado perhaps conceal internal self-doubt and low self-esteem. 

Indeed, Sergius's rhetorical question at the beginning of this passage points to the multifaceted, contradictory, and confusing nature of identity. It is clear to Sergius that on some level he identifies with each of the figures he describes, but has no way of determining which is "the real man." This in turn suggests that perhaps there is no "real man" beneath his torment. At the same time, it is also possible that Sergius's confusion arises from his habit of thinking in terms of archetypes. He seems to believe that all people exist in "types" that can be summarized in one word ("hero" or "buffoon") that share the same characteristics ("jealous, like all cowards"). These types resemble literary tropes, indicating once again that Sergius's understanding of reality too closely resembles a romantic novel.