Arms and the Man | Study Guide

George Bernard Shaw

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Arms and the Man | Symbols



Chocolate is a symbol of Bluntschli's pragmatism. He knows he will be hungry, but he might not need additional cartridges. Therefore, he carries chocolate with him. Raina is appalled to hear this because it is not in keeping with her ideas of a heroic soldier. However, his statement makes her see the reality of the hardships soldiers actually face. For that reason, she is grateful Bluntschli tells her this information; he is speaking to her as an adult. Therefore, she offers him some of her chocolate and even a place to sleep in her home.

Sergius's Portrait

In the first act Sergius's portrait stands in a position of honor in Raina's room. At one point, she holds it up and even seems to venerate it. However, the appearance of the portrait is more important to Raina than the actual man it represents. Indeed, she doesn't really know this man. This is apparent because she doesn't know whether Sergius will be heroic in battle and because is shocked to hear that he wasn't. She has an idealized concept of love and beats herself up for not being able to live up to the impossible standard that she herself has set. But no one could. The portrait, venerated but cold, is a symbol of all this.

The Petkoffs' Library

In Act 1 Raina refers to her home having a library, the only one in town. She says this in order to brag about how well appointed their home is and how wealthy her family is. They are so wealthy that they can have money to spend on intellectual pursuits. In the third act the audience actually sees this library. It is described as a single shelf of books in poor condition. Therefore, one can assume Raina was bragging about the library because she thought the soldier would never see it but be impressed. This is similar to Shaw's description of the shabby décor in Raina's room and her elaborate furs. The Petkoffs spend money on things that will make them look good—things people will see, like the furs. They are less concerned with the appearance of bedroom furniture or a library, which others will not see but in which the family might take pride. The outward appearance of being a family who can afford a library is more important than actually having one.

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