Friday, 23 December 2016

MAJOR THEMES IN ARMS AND THE MAN BY GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

Major Themes in "Arms and the Man"

1. Ignorance vs. Knowledge
     The play is mainly concerned with the clash between knowledge and ignorance, or, otherwise stated, between realism and romanticism. Raina and her fiance Sergius are steeped in the romanticism of operettas and paperback novels. Bluntschli uses his superior knowledge to disabuse Raina of her military delusions, while the experience of war itself strips Sergius of the grand ideals he held. The couple's idealized vision of warfare deflates in the face of additional information. In the realm of love, the couple's pretensions are defeated by the thoroughgoing pragmatism of their respective new matches: Bluntschli and Louka. Both the Swiss Captain and Bulgarian man confront their lovers about the gap between their words and their true selves. When faced with reality, both Raina and Sergius are able to abandon their romantic delusions and embrace their honest desires.
2. The Realities of War
     When Catherine and Raina imagine war they picture brave and dashing officers fighting honorable battles. The reality of war falls far from this romanticized vision. In the play's opening scene Bulgarian soldiers hunt and kill fleeing Serbians. Once Captain Bluntschli appears, he becomes an eloquent messenger for the horrors of war. He describes conditions of starvation and exhaustion at the front lines. What first appears to be most glorious moment in the war, Sergius' cavalry charge, is revealed to be an absurd case of dumb luck. Later in the play Captain Bluntschli helps Major Petkoff and Sergius coordinate the return routes of surviving troops so as to prevent starvation. Since the play begins in the aftermath of the Serbo-Bulgarian War, the reader does not experience any titillating battles, only a grinding post-war reality where hunger and death loom in the background.
3. The Realities of Love
     Raina and Sergius are as delusional about love as they are about war, seeming to have derived their understanding of romance primarily from Byronic poetry. They celebrate each other with formal and pretentious declarations of "higher love", yet clearly feel uncomfortable in one another's presence. The couple, with their good looks, noble blood and idealist outlook, seem to be a perfect match, but in Shaw's world love does not function as it does in fairy tales. Instead Raina falls for the practical and competent Swiss mercenary that crawls through her bedroom window and Sergius for the pragmatic and clever household maid. Love does not adhere to conventions. Moreover, love is not some abstract expression of poetic purity. Love in the play is ultimately directed at those who understand the characters best and who ground them in reality.
4. Jingoism and National Pride
     Every war is initiated either in the name of nationalism or to manifest one's creed and its superiority. Bernard Shaw focuses on the notion that none focuses the superiority of humanity and the values associated with it. Catherine wants her daughter to be worthy of her fiance because he is a war hero: "Oh, if you have a drop of Bulgarian blood in your veins, you will worship him when he comes back." Catherine does not like the treaty of peace because the Serves ought to be taught that the Bulgarians are mighty. 
5. Feminine Sentimentalism
     Sentimentality of the fair sex has always been subject to criticism and fun for the writers since ages. Women are considered soft at heart and weak in the mind. They are easy to move and influence. Our dear Raina and her mother prove to be of this category; however, Louka, a rough and tough maid, proves to be of another kind. The way the daughter and mother help escape the fugitive soldier is really amazing and unbelievable. 
6. Incompetent Authority
     Throughout the play competence and power do not align with established authority. Louka repeatedly flouts social rules. By violating traditional ideas of authority and power, she is able to win marriage to a handsome and wealthy war hero. Her manipulation of Sergius demonstrates that control does not necessarily derive from social authority. Likewise, Catherine manipulates her husband Major Petkoff, withholding information and shepherding him about. Major Petkoff, as the oldest wealthy male, should be the most powerful character according to contemporary social hierarchy. Yet Petkoff proves to be a buffoon; he is, in fact, the character least able to control outcomes, as he rarely understands what is unfolding before him.
7. Class
     Class has a large and continuous presence in the play. The Petkoff's upper-class pretensions are portrayed as ridiculous and consistently played for laughs. The family's pride in their so-called library becomes a running joke throughout the play. Shaw praises the family's more local and humble roots: admiring the oriental decorations in Raina's bedroom and describing Catherine earthy local beauty. Raina's outdated Viennese fashions and Catherine's tea gowns are treated as ridiculous. Louka's struggle demonstrates many of the effects of class in Bulgarian society. She feels restricted by her station, which condemns her to a life where reading books is considered presumptuous. Using her wit, Louka manages to escape these boundaries, achieving equality with the wealthy Sergius.
8. Hypocrisy
     Hypocrisy has been the age old problem with mankind. Humans claim one thing while believe in another. Similarly, the soldiers fighting in the name of national pride and bravery are cowards. The aristocrats have hypocrites and they present themselves for what they are really not. They show off a humane and gentle appearance but inside of them they are cheaters and losers. Sergius flirts with Louka while Raina has romantic imagination about the Swiss despite both Raina and Sergius are engaged with each other. Ironically, both vow of great and pure love which is "higher love" for Sergius and "worthy" love for Raina. Catherine would not shout for the servant because it is considered indecent. 
9. Bravery
     In the beginning Sergius, like Catherine and Raina, imagines bravery as the will to undertake glorious and theatrical actions. This belief leads him to lead a regiment of cavalry against a line of machine guns. Despite his dumb luck, the action identifies him as an incompetent figure. When he returns at the end of the war, Louka challenges his romantic notions of bravery. Sergius admits that "carnage is cheap": anyone can have the will to inflict violence. Louka submits that the subtle bravery required to live outside social rules and constrains is more worthy to praise. At the play's end Sergius demonstrates this kind of bravery when he embraces Louka in front of the others and agrees to marry her. Like Sergius, Captain Bluntschli also undermines traditional understanding of bravery.
10. Personal Honesty
     It is through personal honesty that all the play's major conflicts are resolved. Raina abandons her indignant posturing and admits that Sergius exasperates her, allowing her to pair up with Bluntschi. Likewise, Sergius overcomes his overly romantic understanding of the meaning of love and bravery, opening himself to an engagement with Louka. It is only when the couple confronts and accepts their true desires and feelings that they find happiness with their ideal partners. Pretending to share noble love makes both Raina and Sergius miserable. In the end, even Bluntschli embraces his inner romantic self, asking for the hand of the girl he is smitten with. Each characters gives in to his honest desires and is rewarded with an optimal outcome.

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