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Bernard Shaw’s works make us doubt principles and ideals, which we accepted without a question. The economic status of the Petkoff’s is one of wealth, and the fact that they are rich makes us think of a well-mannered and educated family, especially the young girl. The young girl should give us a sense of nobility and in fact she does in this story. The young girl in “Arms and the Man” gives us the impression that she is an ideal daughter, lover and citizen. But is she really? This girl tries to portray this stereotypical personality but proves not to be quite the noble girl she plays. At a certain point she sees herself in a very compromising position and is forced to change.
As the play begins and we start getting to know this girl, Raina Petkoff we start noticing that she is a bit vain. The stage directions go as follows: “…On the balcony a young lady, intensely conscious of the romantic beauty of the night, and of the fact that her own youth and beauty are part of it…” (1561). This excerpt takes away some of the innocence she portrays in a subtle way. The next deception comes when the Swiss enters through the window; instead of screaming for help she decides to help him hide. She even lies to the Bulgarian officer who is looking for the Swiss, betraying her own country. Raina and the Swiss get to know each other a little, and with his experience he can see right through her. He instantly discovered the superficial coating over a very rough interior.
The mother, Catherine, proves to be the same when she abandons her patriotism and loyalty and helps the Serb officer to hide and even escape the next morning. “Like father, like son” they say. But the biggest surprise comes when the Swiss or Serbian officer or Bluntschli blows Raina’s cover. Raina is outraged or pretends to be when Bluntschli throws the truth at her face. He calls her a liar and insists on it. She gets furious at first, but gives in when she realizes she’s got no way out. Her reaction is: “… I! I!!!…How did you find me out?” (1591).
And here she confesses that the “noble attitude” and the “thrilling voice” is just a cover-up. This is Raina’s turning point. We could say that at this point she went from being a girl to being a woman; at this point she matured. Another important fact to my case is the picture of herself she left in the jacket for Bluntschli to find, and the message it contained. “…My chocolate cream soldier…” (1603) is the name Raina gives Bluntschli in the dedication of the picture. This title given to Bluntschli suggests some type of affection that at this point is obvious but if the audience had learned of it as it happened chronologically it would be very shocking.
After the turning point described above, Raina becomes a more outgoing and sincere person. She describes her own cover-up personality as a “noble attitude and thrilling voice” (1591) to Bluntschli. Raina also says Bluntschli is the first person that didn’t take her fake personality seriously. She confesses to the point that she mocks the people who believe her “noble self” by saying: “… I did it when I was a child to my nurse. She believed in it. I do it before my parents. They believe in it. I do it before Sergius. He believes in it” (1591). That incident of calling her a liar made Raina mature. It was a turning point in the life of this character and in the plot of “Arms and the Man”.
Bernard Shaw uses his comedies to criticize many ideals by mocking them. In the case of “Arms and the Man” he takes the nobility of a wealthy, respected family and destroys it by mocking many of its aspects. In this essay I analyze how Shaw takes the view of innocence of a young, noble, rich girl and changes it to make it crude reality, he makes the Petkoff’s look like common people with very little nobility.
Shaw, George Bernard. “Arms and the Man.” Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Ed. Robert DiYanni. 5th Ed. New York: McGraw, 2002. 1561-1604.