The Folly of Hypocrisy Exposed in Arms and the Man
Satire is the "biting exposure of human folly which criticizes human conduct, and aims to correct it" (Di Yanni 839). Moliere was the French master of satiric comedy, and Shaw has been hailed likewise--as the "Irish Moliere." In Arms and the Man, Shaw demonstrates his genius for satire by exposing the incongruities of life and criticizing the contradictions in human character.
Love and war are the main subjects of this play. Shaw addresses each, showing the disparity between how these issues are perceived and what they are in actuality. Love, of course, is often regarded in romantic terms. Raina, of Arms and ...view middle of the document...
[And] Life's a farce" (1330, act 3). It almost seems as though the playwright himself is saying this line; he speaks them to the audience as directly as if he were on stage. For Shaw often stocked his plays "full of lines in which the characters explode romantic elusions" (Ervine 269).
Love, though, is not the only concept around which romanticism abounds. The other point that Arms and the Man seeks to make is that war, too, has been idealized. The perspective that most of the characters have on war is practically mythology. The first scene depicts Raina and her mother, and their morbid excitement over the latest battle. In fact, Raina's first reaction to the news of the battle is to ask whether there was a victory. Her second is to ask, "'Is father safe?'" as an afterthought (Shaw 1293, act 1). She has no idea what war is really all about. To keep herself safe, all Raina feels she needs to do is "roll [herself] up in bed with [her] ears well covered" (1294, act 1).
Shaw soon presents a more realistic view of warfare by introducing the character of Bluntschli. His name is symbolic in that he truly is "blunt." He declares that "'nine soldiers out of ten are born fools'" (1297, act 1). Raina, obviously, has never thought this. She makes heroes out of generals and majors, and, of course, Sergius. But Bluntschli continues; his conversation with her is nothing short of taunting until she is "outraged in her most cherished ideals of manhood" (1299, act 1). Bluntschli reveals that he carries not cartridges with him but chocolate. He is more concerned with his "want of food and sleep . . . he has found by experience that it is more important to have a few bits of chocolate to eat in the field than cartridges for his revolver" (Ervine 268). Finally, Raina begins to understand the reality of war when Sergius, too, exposes the truth about soldiering, saying: 'I am no longer a soldier. Soldiering, my dear madam, is the coward's art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm's way when you are weak. That is the whole secret of successful fighting. Get your enemy at a disadvantage; and never, on any account, fight him on equal terms.' (Shaw 1309-1310, act 2)
With those words, Sergius extracts any thoughts from Raina's mind, and her mother's mind, that the men fighting in battles are all noble, heroic, or honorable. They are simply men, doing a job, and trying, on any terms, to stay alive.
When Shaw has Sergius relay these words, though, he is doing more than just dispelling romantic notions that the characters, and the audience, have about war; he is pointing out the hypocrisy of humans in general. For Sergius had always represented...