Arms and the Man

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Youth vs. Maturity 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.
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon

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.

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Youth vs. Maturity ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Arms and the Man related to the theme of Youth vs. Maturity.
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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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. 

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. 

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.