Arms and the Man Summary

“The Arms and the Man” is a play written by Bernard Shaw and its events take place in an unnamed Bulgarian town in 1885, during the Serbo-Bulgarian war. The play opens with the sight of the bedroom of the ordinary house that belongs to Catherine Petkoff and her daughter Raina. They are both in the bedroom, discussing the latest news from the frontline. Catherine tells the young girl about the miraculous and tremendous victory of a cavalry unit. The commander of the unit appears to be Raina’s fiance, Major Sergius Saranoff, who serves together with Raina’s father, Major Paul Petkoff. Raina is stunned to hear such a news, but then she begins to worry that she doesn’t deserve such a hero and will never be good enough to be a good match to such a brave and noble man.

While Raina laments about her imperfection, Louka, their maid, storms into the room with the urgent news that the Serbs are on the streets and the battle may soon start in any moment. She pleads her mistresses to close the doors and windows and pretend that the home is abandoned. Raina calms her down, promising to do this a bit later. Louka, still frightened, leaves and Raina returns to her bed, reading the book and completely forgetting about her promise. Suddenly the sounds of shooting are heard outside and the silhouette of a soldier appears on her balcony. An Serbian soldier, a member of the enemy ermy, with a gun in his hand, enters the room and threatens to kill the girl if she makes a single sound. Raina still tries to talk him out of killing her and they start talking. Suddenly Louka knocks at the door saying that the Bulgarian patrol has come and they got a report about an enemy soldier climbing to the balcony of this house. They want to investigate if he is still here. Raina turns to the soldier in despair and fear, understanding that she will be either killed or taken hostage now, but he just says that he is ready to die but not before he takes some Bulgarian soldiers with him. These brave words suddenly touch the girl and she hides him, letting the patrol in.

When they investigate the room, find no one and leave, Raina feels very nervous, not knowing why she did what she did and what she needs to do next. In her anxiety she even accidentally sits on his gun, but, surprisingly, it’s not even loaded and the mysterious soldier doesn’t even have any spare cartridges for it. When shocked Raina asks about it, he explains that instead of taking spare bullets he prefers taking chocolate bars with him. They continue talking and the soldier says that he isn’t a Serbian, he is a professional mercenary from Switzerland hired by Serbia to fight on their side. Raina finds a chocolate bar - the last she has - and presents to the soldier. He gladly eats the sweet, thanking the girl for saving his life. He doesn’t tell his name still, so Raina nicknames him “chocolate cream soldier”. Making sure that Bulgarian patrol is gone, she offers him to climb back down, but he explains that he climbed up with the help of sheer adrenaline of the pursuit and is too exhausted now to repeat that feat. After a short pause, Raina goes downstairs to explain the situation to her mother and ask Catherine for help. But right after she leaves, the soldier just falls onto Raina’s bed and when the women return, he is sleeping so soundly that waking him up is an impossible task.

Act II skips four months and shows the audience the garden of the same house. We see Louka, lectured by the middle-aged and stiff servant named Nicola. Nicola is upset that Louka behaves too independently, without due respect to the upper class of the society. Treating them as equals, according to him, is a great obstacle for her to become a proper servant. But Louka listens only formally. She doesn’t want to be either a proper servant or a servant at all. The plans of the girl are much more ambitious. She even tells Nikola that she will never marry anyone resembling him, having a “soul of a servant” she despises.

They both see Major Petkoff arrive and stop arguing. Catherine comes to greet her husband and tells him the latest news that are important to her: Mrs. Petkoff thinks that Bulgaria should have annexed Serbia and that she ordered a new electric doorbell to be installed in the house library. Major Sergius Saranoff, Raina’s fiance and a war hero after the aforementioned cavalry charge, also enters the stage: he came with Major Petkoff and is invited in. The men discuss the latest news of the war and of the town and are as rude as the soldiers can be. They blatantly tell the shocked women the scandalous story about a Swiss mercenary, who escaped the Bulgarians chasing him by climbing to the bedroom of a noble lady. The men theoretize how the soldier could repay for his saving and both Catherine and Raina are completely embarrassed by such a crude story told right before of them. Mr. and Mrs. Petkoff enter the house, leaving Raina alone with Sergius. Raina is overly romantic while discussing their feelings, dreamily stating that they both found a “higher love” in each other.

Raina also comes into the house to take her hat, so that she will be able to go for a walk with Sergius. Louka returns and Sergius immediately turns to her asking if she knows how tiresome is to have a “higher love” and trying to embrace the young maid. Offended and interested simultaneously, angry Louka tells that she herself isn’t worse than her mistress and Raina doesn’t deserve all that words about higher love, because she had an affair while Sergius was away. Enraged, Sergius grabs her hand and leaves a bruise on her shoulder, trying to shake the truth out of the maid. Still, Louka refuses to tell the name of the lover (she doesn’t know the name of the Swiss soldier either). Seeing that Louka is hurt, Sergius regains his composure and firmly apologizes. Louka though wants another kind of apology - she demands Sergius to kiss her bruise. The Major refuses and Raina returns, ending the awkward situation. Sergius is called into the house by Major Petkoff and Catherine instead to talk to their daughter about the story both Majors discussed in details. Catherine is very worried about what may happen if they realize that Raina was that lady. But Raina doesn’t care anymore: she is too tired of Sergius’ stiffness and propriety, moreover, she knows that she isn’t guilty of an affair.

Louka enters and announces that another guest has come: it is a Swiss officer who asks for permission to see the young lady living in this house. He introduced himself as Captain Bluntschli. Everyone of the three women realize that he is that “chocolate cream soldier” that was a man from the story told by the Majors. He said that he came to return the old coat of Major Petkoff which he took to disguise himself. Both Catherine and Raina are panicking, Louka is triumphant. The ladies desperately try to make out a plausible plan of politely sending the Captain away, but all their hopes are disrupted by Major Petkoff coming to the door to greet the guest.

Suddenly, the catastrophe doesn’t happen. Moreover, the Major greets Bluntschli warmly and gladly asks him to come in. He introduces the Captain to his family as the man who played a crucial role in final negotiations with Serbians in the end of the war. Mr. Petkoff said that Bluntschli saved many lives with his silver tongue and now he will be his honorary guest until he decides to return to Switzerland.

Act III takes place in the library where all the male characters are now working. Captain Bluntschli is dealing with an enormous pile of papers, reading them, sorting and solving and explaining the confusions. Major Petkoff and Sergius can merely observe in awe - the skills of the Captain are indeed outstanding. When they have a break, Major Petkoff complains during the small talk that his old but favourite coat got lost while he was at war. Right at that moment Catherine rings the new electric bell, telling her husband that she found his coat and immediately sends Nicola after it. The servant brings the “found” coat in. Raina and the Captain are left alone in the library. Raina seems to be genuinely glad to see him alive and even flirtatiously compliments his good looks when Bluntschli is washed and shaved. But right after it she catches up and again starts talking like a proper lady, with all the tone and manners. She mildly scolds the Captain for being so reckless and making her tell lies because of his careless demeanor. But Bluntschli just laughs kindly seeing how she is pretending to conceal her true feelings under the empty words. Still, he says that he is pleased and honored with the attempt. Such an answer amuses Raina to no end: the Captain is the first man who doesn’t want to see a proper lady in front of him, he is fully content with Raina the way she is by her nature. Raina is a bit upset that Bluntschli didn’t check the pockets of the old coat she gave to him. In one of them there was her photo with the inscription “To my Chocolate Cream Soldier”. Their sweet talk is interrupted with the telegram to the Captain. He reads it and his face changes: the news is about the sudden death of his father. Bluntschli, as the sole heir, needs to return to Switzerland immediately to settle all the formalities with the documents and his heritage - six prosperous hotels in the mountains. He leaves the room accompanied by the equally sad Raina.

As they exit the library, Louka comes in. Her dress is now worn with one sleeve down, so the bruise on her shoulder is clearly seen. Sergius also enters the library and asks if he can change his mind and heal her “wound” with a kiss. But now Louka wants more: she mocks him, asking if Sergius is brave enough only for a kiss or to make a proposal to the woman he loved for so long too, even if her social status is so beneath his. Sergius sadly answers that he is engaged to a lady so pure and noble that he can’t even think about breaking the engagement, her heart and his reputation simultaneously. Desperate, Louka blatantly tells him that Raina is already in love with Bluntschli and he was the Swiss soldier who was hiding in her bedroom and leaves. Offended and enraged, Sergius immediately calls the Captain and challenges him to a duel. Suddenly, Raina comes in, no less enraged, and, pointing to Louka’s bruised shoulder, accuses Sergius of having sex with Louka and giving her futile promises just to have her spy for Raina and Bluntschli. The argue gets uglier, but Bluntschli quickly understand who is the real puppet master behind it and opens the door where Louka is listening to what happens inside. The Captain asks Louka to come in and finally settle everything down openly (he is a magnificent negotiator indeed!). Sergius apologizes to everyone and finally kisses Louka’s shoulder, confirming his engagement to her. Bluntschli, in his turn, asks permission from the Major Petkoff to marry Raina if she doesn’t object. When he announces the list of his inherited possession that includes two hundred horses, almost ten thousand pairs of sheets, ten thousand dishes and so on… except the hotels themselves, the old Major grants the permission with pleasure. Bluntschli promises Raina that he will return in two weeks, right after he signs all the documents, and will marry her. Raina, completely flattered, gives a charming - and sincere! - smile to her “chocolate cream soldier”. Bluntschli exits and Sergius says with awe: “What a man!”