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Raina’s Romance


Raina is the heroine of Bernard Shaw’s anti-war play, Arms and the Man. Her father is a major in the army and her fiancé is a soldier who risks his life with ostensible heroism for the sake of his country which is in war. The plot unfolds during the 1885 war between Bulgaria and Serbia. It is only natural that Raina has romantic notions about war.

War is seen as an act of patriotism or nationalism by mediocre minds. There are many people for whom war has romantic shades insofar as war is one of the ideals of the nation. You will find countless such people if you look around. All those who clamour for wars with their neighbouring countries for one reason or another tend to be romantic fools at heart. That was Bernard Shaw’s view. For Shaw, war is a useless occupation of people who don’t know what better things to do with their imagination or lack of imagination. Such people find it fun to go and scratch out some land belonging to the neighbour or start a fight over whose god is superior or impose their own language on the neighbours and irritate them into a fight. Intelligent people find intelligent solutions while thugs resort to the use of muscles and muzzles.

Raina is not quite intelligent at the beginning of the play. Her attitude to war has been shaped by the usual romantic ideals of the hoi polloi. But she does raise the question right in the first scene itself whether the men in battle are really as heroic as Byron and Pushkin showed them to be. She will get the answer soon in the person of Bluntschli, an enemy soldier who runs into her bedroom in order to escape from the chasing soldiers of Bulgaria. Raina is Bulgarian but she refuses to disclose the Serbian soldier Bluntschli’s presence behind her curtains when the soldiers come questioning.

Raina will eventually learn a few lessons about war from Bluntschli who turns out to be a mercenary soldier fighting not because he has any romantic notions about patriotism or nationalism. Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it, Shaw derided. Silly people with inflated egos tend to nurture ideals such as patriotism. Raina’s fiancé, Sergius, belongs to that category. Bluntschli would rather carry chocolate in his magazine than cartridges.

Bluntschli has clear, rational and pragmatic views about war. If your country is attacked you need to defend it. That doesn’t mean you think your country is the best in the whole world. That doesn’t also mean that you dash into the middle of the battlefield recklessly as Sergius did. War is a matter of shrewd strategies. War is a professional affair. Glib talks about your country’s ancient heritage won’t get you anywhere in time of war. You need clear information and shrewd planning. Not slogans. Not sentiments. Not even patriotism.

Raina is intelligent enough to understand what Bluntschli, an enemy soldier, is telling her. Her romance undergoes a transformation. She sees clearly that people like Sergius are hollow men. Their patriotism is just a cover-up for their inner emptiness and inflated ego. When you have no great qualities of your own, put on the cloak of patriotism and you look like a hero. But you are not a hero inside. The real you will become visible sooner than later. Raina sees the grotesqueness of her fiancé soon enough and gives him up. Raina’s maidservant who has aspirations of upward social mobility picks him up. The vainglorious patriot and the upwardly mobile maidservant are good match for each other.

Raina has depth in her character. She finds her match in the pragmatic and professional mercenary soldier that Bluntschli is. You fight a war merely to defend yourself. There is no pious sentiment attached to war. War is stupid. Unavoidable too, maybe.

What is interesting is that Shaw’s mercenary soldier turns out to be a deep romantic at heart. His love is authentic and it is not confined to one person and one country. His love has no borders created by religion, language, nation, etc. He can love deeply. Raina’s romance meets its match in him.

The patriotic Sergius turns out to be a flirt in the end. He gets what he deserves: a maidservant.

PS. I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z 

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Comments

  1. Interesting take on the subject of war and patriotism. This has now got me thinking!!

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  2. Thr perspective about patriotism in your post is so beautiful. How can once country be superior to others just because you were born in it! Well said, I need to read more about this play now!

    Dropping by from momandideas via the A-Z challenge

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    1. Shaw is an eminently readable writer who provokes us with unorthodox views.

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  3. Loved this post that deflates the balloon of 'patriotism'- "You fight a war merely to defend yourself. There is no pious sentiment attached to war. War is stupid. Unavoidable too, maybe."

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    1. Dr Samuel Johnson's definition of patriotism is the harshest I've come across so far: last refuge of the scoundrel.

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  4. Being from a family of soldiers I am surprised at Raina's romantic notions of war in the beginning. Because families of soldiers are the last ones to fall for war propaganda. They are well aware of the collateral damages. As pointed out, the only reason for a well-raised army is self-defence. But what need would there be of that if we didn't have warmongers for leaders.

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    1. Shaw's usual strategy is to project the traditional view as the apparent ideal and then invert it by showing its hollowness. Raina is the tool here in some ways.

      About the role of leaders, you're right. Warmongers are what we are fated to get usually.

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  5. I feel quite impressed & surprised by your depth of knowledge, books you have read, plays you may have watched etc.!!! You very neatly explain the meaning of war! Finally Raina got the right man👌 those who have no great traits, wear the cloak of patriotism - so true. There is nothing patriotic or romantic about a war, it is just an an avoidable madness!

    Dropping by from a to z "The Pensive"

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    1. I had this play as a textbook for graduation. I loved it so much that i went on to read quite many plays of Shaw eventually. Fantastic writer.

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  6. Hari OM
    Another excellent post, and pertinent (sadly) to our times. Proving yet again that the lessons must be learned by each and every generation... YAM xx
    R=Reef

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  7. In the current context of geo-political situation, this story holds a lot to learn from. Wars are empty, they end everything in nothingness.
    Any peace loving individual would find his or her thoughts voiced by Bernard Shaw so articulayely in this play.

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    1. The sight of Ukraine today should suffice to prove the destructive power of war.

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  8. A brilliant take on Shaw's play! I was so taken up by the play and its title that I called my first book 'Arms and the Woman'. You have described both the men beautifully, and of course, the better man wins the girl!

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  9. Bernard Shaw was a genius. Whosoever reads any of his works will find himself/herself as enlightened only after reading. Though the pragmatic thought, in my view, is - if you want peace, be prepared for war; I unconditionally endorse Shaw's thought that war is a useless occupation of people who don’t know what better things to do. The people who romanticize it, either live in fool's paradise and / or expect others to do so.

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    1. You have such clear notions. I only wish there were more people like you in the world.

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  10. Yet another beautiful post. I added it in my list. Thank you sir.

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