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Arms and the Man

George Bernard Shaw




Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Ill-timed entry

Characters in Arms and the Man seem to always come onto stage at inopportune moments for the other characters involved. Bluntschli climbs into Raina’s room, avoiding the Bulgarian army, and then hides from Catherine, Louka, and an officer with Raina’s help. Petkoff arrives in the second act, only to be followed by Sergius, whom Petkoff views as a disappointment following the glory of the charge. Bluntschli, whom Catherine and Raina hope to keep from Petkoff and Sergius, enters directly after. But the women do not succeed in doing this, and Bluntschli is the catalyst for many of the events leading to the play’s resolution. The very coincidence of these characters’ presences on the stage makes the comedic machinery of the work apparent. Characters have to be allowed to collide to the point of ridiculousness for the drama of the play to unfold.

Romantic affairs

There are two simultaneous affairs in the play, Raina and Bluntschli’s, and Sergius and Louka’s. Both Raina and Bluntschli are responsible for their courtship. Raina leaves a picture of herself in her father’s coat for Bluntschli to find, and Bluntschli makes clear at the end of the play that he has been interested in Raina from the outset. Sergius is the chief instigator in his relationship with Louka, although Louka quickly realizes, despite Sergius’s quick temper toward her, that she might be able to use him to help remove herself from a position of servitude. Thus characters who claim to be noble and pure, and never lie—especially Raina and Sergius—are precisely the characters whose infidelities will advance the plot of the play, and reveal their and others’ hypocrisies of conduct.

The soul of a servant

Initially, Louka criticizes Nicola for having the “soul of a servant” because he unconditionally caters to the Petkoffs. Nicola retaliates by criticizing Louka for not being willing to do whatever she can to help the Petkoffs, as that is her job. However, Sergius later tells Louka that she has the soul of a servant for using the family’s gossip against them. What gives someone the “soul of a servant” is never clearly defined in the play, but in any case, Louka defies Sergius’s criticism by doing all in her power to make sure she has the upper hand within the lord-servant relationship in the Petkoff home. For example, she knows about Raina’s protection of Bluntschli earlier in the play, and uses this information to provoke Sergius into challenging Bluntschli to a duel. This, in turn, is the way Louka navigates herself into a public relationship with Sergius, and into the social rank of a lady.

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Arms and the Man