Arms and the Man

by: George Bernard Shaw

Act One, continued

Summary Act One, continued


The man, whose name is later revealed to be Bluntschli, is arguably the novel’s most captivating presence, apart from Raina. He is from Switzerland, and as he notes here, he fights not out of a sense of patriotism to Serbia. He is a professional soldier, or mercenary, who fights for whatever army needs soldiers and can pay them. He could have chosen another career path, but his gift is clearly for the art of war. While he is talented and knowledgeable about war, Bluntschli the soldier does not have the idealized version of military behavior. He wants to protect his own life, and he is willing to ransom Raina’s safety to do so. He carries candy instead of ammunition in his pockets. He gets scared when Raina screams. And he gets sleepy, although he has stayed awake, at that point in the play, for days.

In short, Bluntschli, the “chocolate cream soldier,” is not a hypothetical soldier, he is not simply an abstract idea of a heroic warrior, as Sergius is to Raina. He is a real man, and his strengths and weaknesses point to something deeper about him, which is a kind of self-honesty that the other characters do not seem to possess. Bluntschli is fairly self-aware, and seems to know his motivations and desires very well. He sees through Sergius’ duplicity and blind heroism, and through the Petkoff family’s self-aggrandizement. He does this without drawing attention to himself.

Bluntschli implies in this passage that his Swiss family is bourgeois, meaning that they have perhaps a great deal of money. His father owns six hotels, insinuating that the money was made through work and not through the inheritance of an illustrious family, like Raina’s. The Petkoffs’ wealth is of that second kind, and they are sure to tell to anyone who might ask that they are “old money” in Bulgaria, cultivated and refined, with enormous social stature. Bluntschli is not as enthused by this as Sergius likely is, and Raina seems to sense that. It is perhaps another reason why she values Bluntschli’s opinion and eventually becomes upset with Sergius’s hypocrisy.

Raina’s behavior in these scenes is harder to pin down. She clearly takes a liking to the man from the beginning, but she alternates in her behavior toward him, from disgust at his apparent fear of battle and willingness to save his life, to maternal care when he is drowsy and sleeping. Raina is attracted to him but is not sure why, as Bluntschli seems the opposite of Sergius in so many ways. Bluntschli is pragmatic and Sergius grandiose. Bluntschli is a logical man who plays according to chance, while the Sergius drives into battle without any consideration other than how he might look on a horse. It is a signal of Raina’s character development that she shifts her devotions from Sergius to Bluntschli, from the apparently classic hero to a soldier with a deeper kind of steadfastness.

Though Sergius and Bluntschli seem to be opposites, this part of Act One is important because it debunks the widespread idea that everyone must be good or bad, heroic or cowardly, perfect or flawed. In reality, nothing is black and white. Even though Sergius is praised as a hero, we learn that his cavalry charge was in fact foolish. Likewise, even though Bluntschli isn’t prepared to die for a cause, as society’s ideal heroic soldier would, he is in fact more knowledgeable about war than Sergius. Shaw’s characters mirror the complexity and murkiness of war, as the “hero” turns out to have major flaws, and the more practical, knowledgeable soldier carries chocolates instead of ammunition. Sergius and Bluntschli seem to destroy the idea of war as a glorified act.

Bluntschli’s vulnerability at the end of Act One, when he is sleeping soundly despite having stated that he would not, is an important instance for the play. It marks an ironic moment in which Raina decides to protect a man whose profession is to protect others. It also marks the moment when Raina admits to her mother that she has been harboring a fugitive, and convinces her mother to help her with it. It creates the central secret of the play that will motivate the second and third acts. That is, at least until other characters reveal secrets of their own.