19th century Europe was a place where divisions between the classes were becoming sharper and more damaging all the time. Industrialization and a widening wage gap gave rise to a socialist movement determined to protect members of the working class from exploitation. Predictably, Shaw, a socialist and activist, seeks to undermine the significance of class divisions in his play. The book persistently points out that division between the classes is unethical and unjust. The play maintains that in fact there is no inherent difference between a member of the working class and a member of the aristocracy beyond the way they are treated by society.
Louka is the most adamant socialist voice in this play. She insists she does not have the “soul of a servant” and refuses to think of herself as subservient simply because she was born into the working class. She falls in love with Sergius and calls Raina by her first name. In doing so she eschews convention and promotes her own equality.
Bluntschli persistently identifies himself as a poor soldier, and loves Raina because she was kind to him (and in fact fell in love with him) before she knew he owned a chain of hotels and therefore had a claim to a great fortune. Perhaps Raina’s greatest virtue is her ability to see past class divisions. This is especially notable considering how wrapped up in the meaning of wealth and aristocracy the Petkoffs are. They speak down to the servants and seemingly cannot go five minutes without mentioning that they have a library (an indicator of unusual wealth.) Ultimately, the play depicts those obsesses with their wealth and class to be foolish and shallow, and further suggests that those locked into their class positions are stuck acting a role that keeps them from their true selves, from actual happiness.
Class Divisions ThemeTracker
Class Divisions Quotes in Arms and the Man
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.
You have the soul of a servant, Nicola.
Yes: that’s the secret of success in service.
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.
My rank is the highest known in Switzerland: I am a free citizen.