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Themes in 'Arms and the Man' by Bernard Shaw

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Themes in 'Arms and the Man' by Bernard Shaw

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  • November 2010
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The title "Arms and the Man" derives from the opening lines of the popular epic of Virgil, "Aeneid" :

"I sing of Arms and the Man"

However, as Virgil highly praises war as described by its heroes, Shaw's aim in writing "Arms and the Man" is to provide a more realistic picture of war and to remove all pretensions of the nobility from war. As General Philip Henry Sheridan put it "Many of you here believe that war is all glory; but let me tell you, boys, it is all Hell". Even though Shaw is very critical of the romantic view of war and soldiers, he does not entirely condemn them. In fact, in "Arms and the Man" he makes a satire of the perception people from the Romantic period had of soldiers. Besides, Shaw himself has always insisted that his way of joking was only to tell the absolute truth.

The Romantic period saw war as the opportunity for a man to show courage and bravery. Hence, Sergius, though it is his foolishness that led to the victory of the Bulgarians, is worshipped by Raina as the ideal hero. Yet, the more we learn, the more we are made to realise that Sergius, who is the representation of the traditional heroism in war, is only a caricature that desperately clings to his romanticised ideal of a hero. Little by little, Shaw deconstructs society's myth about heroism. Indeed, Sergius, first presented as being the hero proves to be an arrogant full of vanity and an obstinate fool. He is seen as incapable of helping Captain Bluntschli with troop movements and flirts with Louka, Raina's maid, whenever they are alone. On the other hand, Shaw provides the reader with a much more practical and realistic image of a soldier through the character of Captain Bluntschli. Bluntschli has escaped from a horrific battle after three days of being under fire and therefore represents the real experience of a professional soldier. Shaw believes that one requires a futile nature to be able to take up the "Arms" and via Bluntschli, he demonstrates that a soldier...