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 17, as he believed). Once he is aware that she is older, he is willing to take her opinions and beliefs more seriously, and agrees to court her. Raina’s parents, meanwhile, and their servant Nicola are all “old” (or at least older than Raina, Louka, and Serge, who are all identified as “young”). However, unlike Bluntschli, they are not portrayed as particularly mature. Rather, in their more advanced age, they have simply become entrenched in tradition and the status quo.
Shaw thus paints a complicated picture of age and maturity: youth can be vibrant and incite change, but it can also be silly and naïve. Age can mean realism and intelligence, but it can also mean a kind of disengagement and acceptance of even detrimental social norms. Shaw’s heroes in this play are those who have the energy, vitality, and vigor of youth, but the sensibility, maturity, and insight that often comes with old age.
Youth vs. Maturity ThemeTracker
Youth vs. Maturity Quotes in Arms and the Man
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.
There are only two sorts of soldiers: old ones and young ones.
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.
The world is not such an innocent place as we used to think.