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.
Romanticism / Idealism vs. Realism Theme Icon

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 call a “Byronic hero” after the Romantic poet Lord Byron) embodies almost all of the romantic ideals: they are both beautiful, refined, and appear to be infatuated with each other. However this romantic, idealistic vision of love does not stand up when reality sets in. The “genteel” Sergius lusts animalistically—even, sometimes, violently—after the servant Louka and Raina is in love with the anti-romantic Bluntschli. Their ideal romantic love is all an act. In reality, love is much more multifaceted, and complicated, than Raina and Sergius make it seem.

Raina and Sergius’s flawed romanticism also shows through in their conception of war. Raina waxes poetic about how Sergius is an ideal soldier: brave, virile, ruthless but fair. It turns out Sergius’s cavalry charge was ill-advised, and the charge only succeeded because the opposing side didn’t have the correct ammunition. Sergius is not the perfect soldier—he is a farce. And the real soldier, Bluntschli, runs away from battle and carries sweets instead of a gun. He also speaks honestly about the brutality and violence of war—which involves more drunkenness and abuse than it does heroics and gallantry.

Shaw displays an interest in revealing human realities like love and war for what they really are: often ugly, contradictory, and thoroughly complex. He implicitly criticizes romantic art for avoiding these realities, and giving us a sugarcoated version of human life and human history. Conversely, his work puts forth the argument that art should be able to make sense of and account for human experiences.

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Romanticism / Idealism vs. Realism ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Arms and the Man related to the theme of Romanticism / Idealism vs. Realism.
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

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. 

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. 

I think we two have found the higher love. When I think of you, I feel that I could never do a base deed, or think an ignoble thought.

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

Sergius has told Raina that everything he does is for her, and that when he was in battle he imagined her watching over him. Raina then declares that she and Sergius have found "the higher love," and that thinking of him makes her unable to "do a base deed, or think an ignoble thought." Once again, Raina uses exaggerated romantic language to discuss hers and Sergius's relationship. She speaks in superlatives and seems to conceive of her love as having an almost mystical power. However, at this point the audience knows that Raina has also secretly hidden Captain Bluntschli, and they will soon find out about Sergius's relationship with Louka. Raina's words in this passage therefore ironically foreshadow the exposure of hers and Sergius's relationship as hypocritical and false.

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. 

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. 

The world is not such an innocent place as we used to think.

Related Characters: Major Sergius Saranoff (speaker), Raina Petkoff, Louka
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Sergius, Bluntschli, Raina, and Louka have slowly revealed their secrets to one another. Major Petkoff enters, and everyone tries to pretend that everything is normal. However, when Raina tries to steal the portrait from Major Petkoff's jacket pocket, he reveals that he has already seen it, and asks if she regularly sends "photographic souvenirs to other men." Sergius replies that "the world is not such an innocent place as we used to think." These words confirm the idea that Sergius and Raina were indeed a "couple of grown-up babies," caught up in childish fantasies that obscured the true nature of reality. As Sergius's statement suggests, honesty is the only way to destroy these illusions, which may appear "innocent" but which in fact consist of false performances and deceit.