G.B.Shaw always wages a war against the romantic and idealistic notion of life, against the shams and hypocrisy and his war begins with ‘Arms and the Man’. Shaw calls ‘Arms and the Man’ ‘an anti-romantic comedy’ as here he exposes the hollowness of the high idealistic romantic notion of love and war. In a witty and thought-provoking way Shaw makes his readers see the actual truth about love and war.
‘Arms and the Man‘ opens with a note of romance and heroism. Raina is a romantic girl who is engaged with Sergius, a ‘Byronic hero’ who has gone to the battlefield like a knight. He makes a heroic charge and wins a victory and becomes the hero of the hour. Both Raina and Sergius live in a world of romance and unreality. Their romantic ideals are the outcome of reading Byron and Puskin. It is for this reason their romance is easily shattered coming contact with reality. Bluntschli slowly makes Raina aware of her foolish notion about war. He tells her that Sergius is a fool and blockhead and he and his regiment nearly committed suicide only the pistol missed fire. He further said that ‘nine soldiers out of ten are born fools.’ Gradually both Raina and Sergius understand their hollowness and Sergins said that war is nothing but the ‘coward’s art’.
Raina and Sergius become disillusioned in their romantic ideals of love. Sergius finds it very tiring and seeks relief in Louka, the maid and when he gets the chance he flirts with her. Raina finally discovers her ‘hero’ as nothing but clay. On the other hand, Sergius discovers Raina’s new real love for Bluntschli. She turns to Bluntschli not because he faces bullets, but because he faces facts. Raina becomes educated by the realist Bluntschli and fully understands herself and reality. The cobweb of the romantic net is broken and the searchlight of reality ridicules the false romanticism.
Shaw is not merely a realist rather an anti-romantic. He never presents realism in a photographic manner. In under to achieve his anti-romantic purpose the dramatist resorts to exaggeration of reality. A fugitive soldier must demand food when he is famished but what Bluntschli demands is heard to believe-chocolates. Sex may be an impersonal instinct but in real life, Sergiuses are usually found to marry Rainas, not the Loukas. Soldiers are fools but how can we believe that the pistol remains on the front but the officers overlook it.
It will be unjust to say that the play in devoid of romance. The opening of the drama is a melodramatic one. The beautiful dreamy heroine, the heroic exploits, the war cry, the running away of the soldiers, the fugitives, the narrow save, the love at first sight between Raina and Bluntschli-everything bears the note of romanticism. Bluntschli in spite of his realistic attitude describes himself as a man of a romantic disposition. In spite of his father’s well-established hotel business, he joins in the army. He could have sent the coat of Major Petkoff but brings it himself as he wants to have a second look to Raina.
The drama is anti-romantic and Shaw exposes the romantic notion of life especially the foolish notions regarding love and war. Here he places before the readers the facts of life-the truth that lies behind the romantic illusion of life. It is, therefore aptly said by Chesterton
‘ the play is built not on pathos, but on bathos or anti-climax.’