Arms and the Man

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Identity, Authenticity, and Self-Expression Theme Analysis

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.
Identity, Authenticity, and Self-Expression Theme Icon

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 roles depending on who they are with. Sergius supposes that he is “six different men” all wrapped into one. Raina speaks with a certain kind of passion and drama deliberately, because she finds it has a desired effect on the listener. They both do a good deal of “acting.” Shaw also implicitly asks what things (besides behavior) determine identity. Is it our profession? Is calling Bluntschli a “soldier” tantamount to summarizing his identity? The same question could be asked about Nicola being a “servant.” Do our families or our names define us? Raina often speaks of herself as though her status as a “Petkoff” is integral to who she is.

These characters triumph, and form happy relationships, once they cease performing for the benefit of their family, friends, etc. and allow themselves to act authentically. Raina is able to let go of her romantic youthful and aristocratic airs and be herself with Bluntschli—who can only admit his love for her after he lets go of his rugged cynicism and admits he has a romantic side. Louka and Sergius also end up together once Sergius admits he is not as sensitive and refined as he acts, and once Louka freely admits that, though she has been acting put off by Sergius, the affection is in fact mutual.

In the late 1800s, Shaw became an advocate for the rights of workers, women, and racial minorities. He observed that certain groups of people were subjugated because of certain aspects of their identities, and in many ways this play serves to deconstruct “identity” as many in the 1800s would have seen it: something grounded in manners, social and economic standing, ancestry, race and gender. He also sees these divisions as not only economically or socially damaging but also psychologically damaging. Shaw questions these divisions in the play just as he questioned them in his activism. The play reveals that if culture shapes our identity for us we fail to be happy. But if we can find a way to be authentic to ourselves, our lives become more honest and our relationships more fulfilling. In many ways this emphasis on the importance of self-expression could be a kind of implicit argument for the importance of the arts, which many perceived to be waning in importance in the increasingly industrialized and scientific world of the late 19th century.

Identity, Authenticity, and Self-Expression ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Arms and the Man related to the theme of Identity, Authenticity, and Self-Expression.
Act 1 Quotes

On the balcony a young lady, intensely conscious of the romantic beauty of the night, and of the fact that her own youth and beauty are part of it, is gazing at the snowy Balkans.

Related Characters: Raina Petkoff
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The play has opened to a bedroom in a small town in Bulgaria. The furniture reveals both the wealth and class aspirations of the family who own the house, and on the wall hangs a portrait of a handsome young soldier. On the balcony a young woman, Raina Petkoff, stands "gazing at the snowy Balkans" and pondering both the beauty of the natural landscape and "her own youth and beauty." This brief, rather sarcastic description establishes important facts about Raina's personality. Although not exactly vain, she has an extremely romantic attitude to life. Rather than thinking about the suffering caused by the Bulgarian-Serbian war, she is instead caught up in a reverie about natural beauty. Raina's thoughts thus reflect her own youthful idealism, as well as the preoccupations of romantic literature, which arguably over-simplifies and obscures the realities of life in many ways.


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I am so happy—so proud! It proves all our ideas were real after all.

Related Characters: Raina Petkoff (speaker), Major Sergius Saranoff, Catherine Petkoff
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Raina's mother Catherine has entered, and told Raina the news that there has been a battle in which Sergius, Raina's fiancee, courageously led the Bulgarian forces to victory. Raina is thrilled, and declares that this "proves all our ideas were real after all." This passage further emphasizes Raina's romantic ideals, and suggests that these ideas are shared by Sergius. It also illustrates the distance between these romantic notions and reality. Although Raina declares that the news about Sergius confirms her "ideas were real," this declaration makes Raina seem quite childlike and naïve. After all, the success of one battle is not enough to definitely prove any idea about war; if anything, the reality of war is one of severe violence, suffering, and death, rather than victory and happiness.

The world is really a glorious world for women who can see its glory and men who can act its romance!

Related Characters: Raina Petkoff (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Having heard the news that Sergius has been victorious in battle, Raina has exclaimed that this proves that her ideas about the romance of war are real. She has confessed to her mother that she sometimes worries that her romantic view of war comes from reading Pushkin and Byron, but in this passage declares that "the world is really a glorious world for women who can see its glory." Once again, this statement has the unintended effect of making Raina seem childlike and naïve. Her sudden certainty that the world is "glorious" shows how sheltered she is from the realities of war, poverty, and suffering. 

Furthermore, note the stark gender discrepancies in Raina's view of the world. As a woman, she considers herself a spectator; her role is to "see" the glory of the world, rather than directly participate in it. In this sense, Raina views the world rather like a romantic novel. She observes and delights in its "glory" and "romance," but does not herself play a major role in its workings. A man's role in the world, on the other hand, is to "act its romance." Again, such a statement reflects the naïve, idealized version of men's lives––and particularly the experience of going to war––that women at the time were encouraged to believe. 

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.

There are only two sorts of soldiers: old ones and young ones.

Related Characters: Captain Bluntschli (speaker), Raina Petkoff
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Captain Bluntschli has begged Raina to let him stay inside a while before returning to the battle. Although Raina allows him to stay and gives him chocolate, she is scornful of his timid attitude, and declares that she herself is braver than him. She tells Bluntschli that he is unlike Bulgarian soldiers, inferring that they are more courageous, but Bluntschli disagrees, saying the only types of soldiers are "old ones and young ones." Once again, Bluntschli seems remarkably dismissive of nationalistic allegiances and romantic views of battle. He appears to consider divides between men of different nations as meaningless, pointing to the constructed nature of national identity. On the other hand, he does believe that men are distinguishable by age; as he will later argue, older men with more experience of war are less likely to be bold and reckless. 

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

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.

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.

Sergius Saranoff…is a tall, romantically handsome man…the result is precisely what the advent of the nineteenth century thought first produced in England: to wit, Byronism…it is clear that here is Raina’s ideal hero

Related Characters: Raina Petkoff (speaker), Major Sergius Saranoff (speaker)
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Raina's father, Major Paul Petkoff, has entered the house with news that the war has ended. Shortly after, Sergius arrives, and Paul quietly tells Catherine that Sergius will not be promoted until it is certain that Bulgaria will not be fighting in a war again soon. When Sergius enters, the stage directions describe him as "a romantically handsome man" and "Raina's ideal hero." Indeed, he is described as Byronic, referring to the quintessential romantic figure of Lord Byron, the famous poet and lover. Although this description presents Sergius in positive terms, this positive impression is undermined by Paul's earlier words to Catherine, which suggest that Sergius's courageous persona is merely an act, and doesn't reflect his actual skills as a solider. 

Once again, the play shows that romantic ideas about life do not hold up in reality. In some ways, Sergius's presence onstage seems to have emerged directly from Raina's romantic novels; he resembles her "ideal hero," suggesting that this ideal is so powerful it overwhelms the reality of who Sergius actually is. 

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. 

Act 3 Quotes

I want to be quite perfect with Sergius—no meanness, no smallness, no deceit. My relation to him is the one really beautiful and noble part of my life.

Related Characters: Raina Petkoff (speaker), Captain Bluntschli, Major Sergius Saranoff
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Sergius and Bluntschli have been working together at the desk in the library; when they are finished, Sergius and Major Petkoff depart to deliver the orders, leaving Raina and Bluntschli alone. Raina tells Bluntschli that if Sergius finds out that she hid him when he climbed onto her balcony, Sergius would kill him. Bluntschli clearly finds this idea ludicrous, which angers Raina. In this passage, Raina stresses that she wants there to be "no meanness, no smallness, no deceit" in her relationship with Sergius. Although Raina's feelings for Sergius seem to be earnest, her words are rendered hollow by the fact that there is already clearly deceit in their relationship. Both Raina and Sergius have been lying to each other throughout the play. 

Raina's claim that her relationship with Sergius "is the one really beautiful and noble part of my life" is typically melodramatic in its romanticism. It also emphasizes the lack of sovereignty and agency Raina has over her own life. Rather than being fulfilled by her own thoughts and desires, Raina lives for her relationship to Sergius, whom she idealizes as a perfect, manly hero. 

Do you know, you are the first man I ever met who did not take me seriously?
You mean, don’t you, that I am the first man that has ever taken you quite seriously?

Related Characters: Raina Petkoff (speaker), Captain Bluntschli (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

Raina has told Bluntschli that she doesn't want there to be any deceit in her relationship with Sergius, but Bluntschli points out she has already lied about hiding him on her balcony. Bluntschli has admitted that he is attracted to Raina, even if he doesn't believe a word she says. Raina tells him that he is the first man not to take her seriously, but Bluntschli insists that the opposite is true––that he is the first man to take her "quite seriously." This passage reveals the strange, contradictory logic underlying gendered social relations among the upper class at the time.

Clearly, Raina feels that her romantic performance of the smitten, devoted woman is necessary for men to take her seriously. As Bluntschli points out, however, anyone who believes and indulges this performance is not taking Raina seriously at all, but instead buying into a fantasy image of what women should be like. When Raina relaxes and becomes more honest with Bluntschli, however, he is able to communicate with her as an equal, addressing who she really is as a person as opposed to the archetype she is trying to imitate. 

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. 

I could no more fight with you than I could make love to an ugly woman. You’ve no magnetism: you’re not a man, you’re a machine.

Related Characters: Major Sergius Saranoff (speaker), Captain Bluntschli
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Louka has told Sergius that Raina will marry Bluntschli, and Sergius has reacted furiously. Sergius challenges Bluntschli to a duel, and Bluntschli amusedly accepts. Sergius, Bluntschli, and Raina argue with one another, and in doing so reveal that Sergius and Raina's declarations of love are in fact false, as they are both in love with other people. In this passage, Sergius announces defeatedly that he can't fight Bluntschli, as Bluntschli is not a man but "a machine." This statement emphasizes the impression that Sergius is a comic character who would say anything rather than admit that his aggressive bravado is a false performance.

The fact that he chooses to insult Bluntschli by calling him a "machine" highlights Sergius's suspicions of Bluntschli's honest, straightforward demeanor. It is likely also a reference to the fact that Bluntschli is a professional soldier, with no patriotic allegiance or emotional attachment to war. Indeed, Sergius's words posit Bluntschli as representative of the future, and suggest that this future is dominated by a cold, transactional, and mechanical approach to life. At the same time, the play shows that Bluntschli's "mechanical" honesty is preferable to Sergius's romantic, patriotic posturing. 

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.