Saturday, 31 October 2015

ARMS AND THE MAN (play) by George Bernard Shaw

Arms and the Man

                                                            George Bernard Shaw

Arms and the Man is one of best plays of Bernard Shaw. It was performed for the first time in London in the year 1894.  Now 112 years have been passed by. Still the play is both humorous and thought provoking to all people in the world because the themes of the play are still relevant.  The play has two themes:  One is WAR and the other is MARRIAGE. These two themes are interwoven. War is stupid and evil. But marriage is essential and good for mankind. But both are covered in romantic illusions, which led to disastrous wars and unhappy marriages.

Arms and the Man is also a social satire because Shaw laughs at the romantic illusions of both war and marriage life. The romantic view of war is that men fight because they are heroes. The soldier who killed maximum number of men is treated as great hero.  The First Act of the play is set in the bed-chamber of a beautiful young lady in Bulgaria. She  is the only daughter of Major Petkoff and Catherine, who belong to the elite class. Her father and betrothed fiancee Sergius have been fighting in the battle. Raina Petkoff, in the beginning of the play, wants to become the wife of Major Sergius Saranoff.  News has come home to Raina and her mother  that Sergius has ridden bravely at the head of a victorious cavalry charge and Raina is very happy because  she can now believe that her would be husband is glorious and noble as he looks. In the opening scene of the play Raina goes to bed kissing Sergius’ portrait, murmering, ‘My hero! My hero!” This is a romantic girl’s romantic view of life. But her dreamy world is destroyed and she is brought down to reality by ‘the Man – Bluntschli – a professional Swiss soldier fighting for the Serbs.

Bluntchli is an enemy officer because he is fighting for the Serbs and the Serbs are defeated. Then this Officer ran away and took shelter in Raina Petkof’s room. He is deadly tired and full of fear and his uniform is dirty with mud, blood and snow. He escaped from the Russian and Bulgarian troops and he climbed through the water pipe into her balcony. He is afraid to die. He tells her that every experienced soldier is afraid to die and they keep chocolate in their pockets instead of cartridges because food is as important to a soldier as weapons. Professional skill and intellience are as important as physical courage.
He also tells her that the great Bulgarian cavalry charge led by Sergius was the most foolish thing in the world.  The man must be the very maddest. He and his regiment would have committed suicide if the Serbs had ammunition. The wise thing in the battle is to avoid death and killing and that is why professional soldiers like Bluntchli keeps chocolate creams in his rifle instead of cartridges. Life is more precious than anything else in the world.

Thus Shaw introduces a true soldier in Bluntchli, and Sergius represents the romantic view of war. As all Shavian heroes, Bluntchli too is anti-romantic and practical minded, sharp and efficient in his work.

The war has ended and the soldiers are home again.  Sergius too has learned something of the realities of war and he begins to hate war and he has sent in his resignation.  He says “Soldiering is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak.  That is the secret of all successful fighting”.

Bluntschli shows Raina her real character beneath the romantic mask that she has worn since childhood. She did not like the real Sergius. So she made an imaginary Sergius in her mind. Similarly she also built of an imaginary(romantic) Raina.  As soon as Bluntchli comes to Raina’s room, he learns that she lives in her imaginary world of dreams.  On the other hand Bluntchli is a man of experience, a professional soldier, undergone all sufferings and he knows the naked realities of life which include love and war.  That is why Bluntchli tells on the face of Raina these words “ When you strike that noble attitude and speak in that thrilling voice, I admire you; but I find it impossible to believe a single word you say”. At first Raina is shocked when Bluntchli tears off her mask of romantic view of life.  Then slowly she begins to come down to the realities of life. She says “ I did it when I was a tiny child to my nurse. She believed in it. I do it before my parents. They believe in it. I do it before Sergius. He believes in it” But her “Chocolate Cream Soldier does not believe in it. In a scene both and Raina and Sergius find “higher love” and they think that they are one in the spirit. When Raina goes to take her hat to go for an outing with Sergius, he goes to Louka, the maid servant and began flirting with her. Sergius analyses himself frankly.  “I am surprised at myself Louka.  What would  Sergius the hero of Slivnitza, say, if he saw me now…..What would the half dozen Sergiuses who keep popping in and out of this handsome figure of mine say if they caught us here?”

By the time Raina plans to marry her Chocolate Cream Soldier, Bluntschli has cured her of the two deceptions which ruled her life when the play began. Her illusions of a romantic view of war and marriage life. The characters Bluntschli, Raina, Sergius, Louka, Catherine, Nicola and Major Petkof are the vehicles of Shaw’s ideas of life and war. Shaw believes that the purpose of marriage is to give birth to new and better generation.  He also believes that marriage is a sacred contract, not a foolish domestic excursion. Similarly war is horror. If possible it must be avoided. Professional skill and intelligence are as important as physical courage.


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