War and love are two themes of Arms and the Man. Raina has romantic views of war and love. At the beginning of the play, Raina worships Sergius as per ‘hero’ and ‘god’. He has gone to war like a knight in a tournament and she associates war with patriotism and heroism. She is rapturous on hearing Sergius’s victory at Slivnitza. Thus with her romantic love is associated with the romantic conception of war as an opportunity for patriotic self-sacrifice. Catherine grows hysteric in her description of the cavalry charge of Sergius which she has seen through imagination. Shaw suggests that it is the imagination of sentimental homestayers that has cast upon war the romantic halo.
Similarly, romantic love which is not based on mutual understanding is false and hollow. Sergius who is the apostle of higher love becomes fatigued with spiritual love and becomes attracted to Louka, the pretty maidservant, and makes love in the lower physical plane. Raina develops liking for Bluntschli because she sees a real soldier in him and knows what war means. Captain Bluntschli takes shelter in Raina’s bedroom after his flight from the battlefield. He is tired, hungry, nervous. Enemies tiring is heard from behind. A soldier is a man and has man’s instinct of self-preservation. Nine soldiers out of ten are afraid to die.
Sergius’s cavalry charge was a foolish military action. His victory is accidental. Raina is offended by Bluntschli’s remark about her lover, but intelligent as she is, she can understand the truth of it. She pities the man, saves him from the Search party, and allows him to sleep on her bed. She calls him “poor darling”. Thus Raina is drawn to a soldier who has escaped from the battlefield. She has an idea that war is a romantic game, but now she sees it as a horrible reality. Her womanly instinct draws her to the miserable but courageous soldier and intelligent man whose smart remarks fascinate him. She calls him “chocolate cream soldier.”
Raina is cured of her romantic illusions of war and love in her encounter with the self-acting Bluntschli. His unconventional ideas born of his original morality shock the orthodox morality of Raina. She sees Sergius flirting with Louka and her chocolate cream soldier visits their house on the pretext of returning the coat. The portrait that she hid in the pocket of the coat shows her growing interest in the man. Bluntschli also admires her noble attitude and thrilling voice. Their attraction for each other is based on their understanding of each other through long debates. So when she comes to now that Bluntschli has six hotels in Switzerland, her choice is fixed unmistakably on Bluntschli. She is the ‘New woman’ and knows that security is the most dominant consideration in love and marriage.
Sergius is cured of his romantic illusion of soldiering and higher love. He is not rewarded with promotion for his victory and he comes to realize that “soldering is the coward’s art of attacking when you are strong and keeping out of the harm’s way when you are weak.” To him, war is ‘a hollow sham like love’. War has been stripped of all its romantic glamour and revealed as a silly and horrible business. Shaw does not hate war, but he hates the song of the glory of war. War has to be seen as it is.
Similarly, Shaw hates the love of love. Both Sergius and Raina wear masks so far as their love life is concerned. But Bluntschli loves Raina and at the same time reveals frankly how her life has been deceit all through. His frankness and honesty of convictions and remarks charm Raina. Shaw shows real ‘romance’ based on understanding and unashamed esteem of each other. Marriage is associated with money and security. Raina marries Bhuntschli for economic security and Louka marries Sergius for rising in social status. Thus the two themes of war and love are welded in the thematic structure of the play. They are developed through confrontations and contrasts are thus integrated into the formal structure of the play.
Also read: Questions and Answers from “Arms and the Man”