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
Identity, Authenticity, and Self-Expression 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.
I am so happy—so proud! It proves all our ideas were real after all.
The world is really a glorious world for women who can see its glory and men who can act its romance!
I am a Swiss, fighting merely as a professional soldier. I joined Servia because it came first on the road from Switzerland.
There are only two sorts of soldiers: old ones and young ones.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.