The Character of Raina in Arms and the Man
Raina is one of Shaw’s finest creations. There must have been a conflict between Shaw the artist and Shaw the moralist in the conception of such a powerful and fascinating character. But his greatness lies in the fact that he succeeds in presenting his philosophy behind the artistic facade. Unlike Bluntschli who is not presented with those sparks of a conventional hero, Raina is invested with all the charms and qualities of any heroine of a conventional comedy.
In the very beginning of the drama Raina is presented just as any other heroine from the romantic tradition. The dramatist describes her at length in the stage direction:
“On the balcony a young lady, intensively conscious of the romantic beauty of the night, and of the fact that her own youth and beauty are part of it, is gazing at the snowy Balkans ....”
The romantic ambience is suddenly enhanced with her mother’s breaking of the news that a great battle at Slivnitza has been won by none other than Sergius, to whom she is betrothed. The audience can understand that this is the same man in the large photograph. After the momentary expressions of feminine joys are over, Raina confesses that she not only “doubted him”, but also the romantic view of ‘patriotism’ and the “heroic ideals”. Now that she has found that she was a “prosaic little coward”, she comes to the conclusion that “the world is really a glorious world for women who can think see its glory and men who can act its romance”. After her mother and Louka have gone, she indulges herself in adoring the hero and enjoying the “blessed reality”.
But very soon the climax of joy is interrupted by a fugitive who enters her chamber contrary to her wish (“...if there are no fugitives.”), which turns out to be a dramatic irony. Raina here may be said to be acting wisely by following the instructions of the fugitive at the point of his revolver; but since she has remained too much preoccupied with her romantic fantasies, she throws those ideas on the face of the man who, to her utter displeasure, is found to be voicing contrary views. Perhaps because of this fact, she gets interested in his views. One is reminded here of the Renaissance theory of magic that opposite poles attract each other. But along with this, Raina may also be said to be taking the opportunity to celebrate the supposed victory of her romantic ideas, feudal aristocratic values and Bulgerian fashions. She decides to save the fugitive partly under the influence of the heroic act of saving the life of a fugitive in Ernani’s opera. The audience can well understand her foolishness in placing herself and her family in the position of the nobles in Ernani’s opera and enjoy the display with a smile. In fact, Shaw dedicates Act I to shattering the feudal, nationalist and imperialist glorification of war. The first notion about bravery, shared by Raina and the audience as well, is mocked at by Blutschli who tells her plainly that the ideal collapses under the constant threat of losing one’s life and that it is prudent to save one’s life by following the demands of instincts rather than heroic ideals. Under the strong emotion of patriotism and more importantly under the desire of taking a sweet revenge on him for blackmailing her, when Raina tries to categorise and differentiate the Bulgerian peole from the enemy people, she gets to know the real story of Sergius’s utter foolishness in leading a cavalry charge. At this she gets “deeply wounded” and tries to neutralise the situation (or examine the truth about Sergius particularly) by showing off the portrait of Sergius. But as Bluntschli apologises and at the same time “stifles a laugh”, she gets offended to the point of showing him the way out down the water-pipe. The mellow and tender aspects of her character are emphasised at the next moment when she takes pity on the worn-out soldier who surrenders his life. Shaw takes this even further by pointing out the mother in her as she decisively reassures and proceeds to save Bluntschli. But while doing so, she also transforms him into “a chocolate cream soldier” and marks him for her own following the Shavian belief that men are pursued by women for producing higher forms of life in the process of Creative Evolution, a theme which is treated in the archetypal level in Man and Superman. Here it must be noted that Raina saves him not just out of her romantic fancy created by Ernani’s opera, and that nor all the romantic higher sentiments are mocked at by Shaw. What Shaw attacks are the pretensions, foolishness and class-consciousness associated with romantic behaviour of people.
In Act II, Raina, already transformed, tries to behave in usual accustomed manner with Sergius, whom she finds somewhat changed partly by his experience in the front and partly by Bluntschli himself. As she tries to maintain the usual air, she gets internally upset by the story of an enemy soldier’s escape with the help of two Bulgarian ladies. She perceives somehow that just like herself Sergius is also pretending to be in higher love. Her words betray conscious irony of their relationship:
“When I think of you, I feel that I would never do a base deed, or think an ignoble thought.”
Again, since she has begun to suspect Sergius’s person, after a few moments she looks down while going inside the house only to find his “higher love” to be offered to Louka so easily. As the entire project of fantasies gets crashed, she begins to express discontent and tensions. This is evident in her comment upon their relationship to her mother:
“I always feel a longing to do or say something dreadful to him—to shock his propriety—to scandalise the five sense out of him.”
She even wishes that Sergius find the truth about the “chocolate cream soldier”. The wish-fulfilment occurs soon with Bluntschli’s abrupt entrance. She welcomes him with a mischievous exclamation. Catherine, conscious of the sudden changes in her daughter, tries to manage the situation, but Raina waits for her turn to meet the captain.
In Act III Raina finds the opportunity to win Bluntschli. Far from being conscious of her real intention he tries to play down her questions in usual smart manner of a pragmatic man. After a while he is forced to admit his being “infatuated admirer”. Here Raina may be said to be stooping to conquer the man she eyes for her and for this she comes out of the image of a conventional woman. The original audience, who had still been to some extent under the Victorian notion of woman’s modesty, could find an image of a different kind of woman in Raina, who goes on saying one thing while thinking something else. For instance, she speaks of being “quite perfect with Sergius, no meanness, no smallness, no deceit” even after she spotted Sergius flirting with Louka and found the truth about the “one really beautiful and noble part” of her life. She does this intentionally to see whether Bluntschli can discover the person inside her. As soon as he does so, she leads him to acknowledge: “I’m your infatuated admirer.”
Now, with her object fixed she goes to settle the score with Sergius who acts like a fool under pressure from two women. The drama reaches its climax in the battle of the sexes, in which the women decidedly win with men becoming puppets in their hands. The hunting—which should not be confused with husband –hunting of some of the Romantic and Victorian novels, seems very dramatic, but the plot has already been fixed by the dramatist in accordance with his philosophical system.
In fine, we it can be said that Shaw presents the birth of the new woman in Raina who progresses from false ideas and ethos of the romantic tradition to a new realization her place in society in equal terms with men being fully conscious of her dignity. That is why she refuses to offer her hand to the “highest bidder” and claims Bluntschli as the “chocolate cream soldier”. Finally, we can say that ultimately her romanticism wins over material and social concerns of her mother, but that part of her romanticism is not false in that it is humane and real.