Portrayal of War and Women in Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man

George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man is a drama revolving around the War between the Serbians and the Bulgarians. The story depicts Bluntschili, a mercenary for the Serbians being rescued by Raina the protagonist. Raina belonging to the prominent Petkoff family is also in love with Captain Sergius who is able to secure a massive victory for the Serbians at Silivinitza. The rest of the play takes place in the home of the Petkoff family. Bluntschili returns to the home and returns a coat belonging to Raina’s father. In it was Raina’s portrait and a written inscription: ‘To my Chocolate Cream Soldier’. When Raina’s father demanded the coat, she was able to artfully dodge and remove the inscription.

War is portrayed as a semi-comic antic by Shaw. Both the comic side and the tragic side of war are depicted with an authentic tinge. Raina’s room is invaded by Blutnschili the Serbian mercenary. He is covered with mud and blood and is escaping the Bulgarians. Raina takes pity on him and protects him even though she is a Bulgarian. When the Bulgarian soldiers enter her room she brilliantly hides him behind the curtain. Raina becomes a pacifist.

As a mercenary soldier Bluntschili is portrayed comically. His revolver does not have bullets and like a small school kid he carries chocolates with him. When Raina hands him chocolate to eat, he goes to the extent of emptying the carton by scrubbing it with his hands and finishing up everything. Raina becomes affectionate towards him and labels him as: ‘My Chocolate Cream soldier’. Bluntschili is a child archetype who is least concerned about the seriousness of war. When his life is in danger, he takes protection in Raina’s room. Through Bluntschili we come to understand that war is a tragic comedy, an anathema, a volcano that injures peoples mind and bodies. Bluntschili is least bothered about whose side wins the war. He is not courageous enough to fight back and tries to save his own skin. Through Raina, we come to understand that even in battle enemies can be become friends, a quality that it is basic human instinct to be existentially kind to the other. Raina is prophet of non violence even though her romantic inclinations converge with men being in war and being intrepid, daring and courageous.

Sergius the would-be husband of Raina is characterized as a brave soldier. He by overruling the orders of his superiors makes bold cavalry charge and wins the battle for the Bulgarians at Silivinitza. Sergius is portrayed as a man with war like qualities. Raina and Catherine her mother rejoice at the Bulgarian victory and they feel proud that would be son-in-law and husband is successful at thwarting enemies. The serious aspect of war is given a room for thought through this character.

The two contrasting personality types engaged in war shows ambivalence in Shaw’s depiction. People by their very nature are peaceful and war is satirized as a comic adventure through the character of Bluntschili. On the other hand the seriousness of War is given vent through the psyche of Sergius. There’s nothing to admire about war except that it brings devastation on life and property. Shaw becomes an apostle of nonviolence and questions the integrity of nations to indulge in violence and cruelty.

Raina the protagonist of the play is nourished on the romantic fables of Pushkin and the opera. She is bursting with romance and there is a contradiction in her character when on the one hand she regards war as a spectacle to defeat the enemy and fight bravely and on the other hand she has no qualms in trying to protect her own enemy. She is gracious and merciful towards her enemy. She does this by taking great risks towards her reputation. She is an archetype of a compassionate other, a feminist who acts as a rebel of counter culture. When she finds out that Sergius, her would-be had won the war, she wonders whether she would be any more eligible. She idealizes Sergius as a romantic hero. The author in Raina has created a remarkable character that encompasses the ideal of modern feminism. She also develops a romantic attraction towards Bluntschili whom she addresses as ‘my chocolate cream soldier’. Later on in the play we realize that she goes on to marry Blutnchili.

Catherine the mother of Raina is portrayed as an aristocratic house wife with all underpinning of traditional maternity. She has no opinion of her own and goes along with her daughter and father Petkoff. Catherine can be considered as an archetypal mother who manages the household and who feels proud that her son-in-law has secured a brilliant victory. Feminists would argue that her character is obsolete and anti-feminist. Marxists would argue that her character is a stereotype of the consciousness of the bourgeoisie. She is a submissive character to masculine ideals, whims and fancies.

Louka the housemaid is a staunch feminist. When she sees the gun in Raina’s room, she keeps it a secret. But later on reveals it to Sergius. When Sergius tries to flirt with her, she protests vehemently. She has independent opinions of her own. Class consciousness works in her mind to a trauma and she feels that she belongs to the dignified and the aristocratic. In Marxian terms: the idea of aristocracy and class consciousness has to be deconstructed as a pathological symptom.

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