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Arms and the Man

George Bernard Shaw

Contents

Symbols

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Petkoff’s coat

Catherine and Raina lend Bluntschli Major Petkoff’s coat to escape the estate in the fall, under cover of darkness. The coat is a symbol of the various instances of deception around which the novel unfolds. Bluntschli brings the coat back to the Petkoffs without realizing that Raina has left an inscribed picture of herself in its pocket, thus indicating to anyone who might see it that she loves Bluntschli despite being engaged to Sergius. The coat literally hides Raina’s love for Bluntschli, and this love is only revealed once Raina’s photograph is removed from the coat. Petkoff cannot find the coat in his closet until Nicola, on Catherine’s urging, places the coat there after Bluntschli’s return in an attempt to cover up the story. Major Petkoff is as sure the coat is not in his closet as he is that nothing is the matter between Raina, Bluntschli, and Sergius in that moment. When Nicola produces the coat, the turmoil between the characters is revealed, and Major Petkoff is just as shocked at both revelations.

Chocolate creams

Raina keeps candies, including chocolate creams, in her bedroom. She appears not to like chocolate creams, as they’re the only candies left in the box. But Bluntschli loves them especially, and famished as he is after the battle, he eats them greedily when Raina offers. From then on, she calls him “the chocolate cream soldier.” Chocolate creams are a symbol of delicacy and high society, as well as a symbol of youthfulness. However, Bluntschli’s willingness to stuff them in his pockets in place of ammunition indicates that they are also a symbol of maturity and knowledge. Bluntschli knows how difficult war is. He is a veteran, not a rookie. Thus the creams are over-determined in the play, meaning there is no single significance that can be placed on them. This is similar to how Raina and Bluntschli are neither paragons of total good nor total evil, but complex humans who behave practically as best they can.

The library

For the Petkoffs, the library is a sign of cultivation and status in the family, which they perceive as rare among Bulgarians. The Petkoffs worry that the Bulgarians are not as refined as their Russain enemies, and Raina is quick to point out to Bluntschli that their library is perhaps the only one in the area. But as the Third Act’s stage notes point out, the library is far from lavish. In fact, it’s only a small room with dusty old volumes scattered on the shelves. The library symbolizes both the Petkoffs’ preoccupation with what they see as fine taste, and the reality of the family that falls far short of this ideal.

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Arms and the Man