The Character of Sergius in Arms and the Man
In Sergius the Romantic tradition of hero is inverted to the extent of making him play almost the part of a fool. As usual with other characters Shaw had a definite philosophical and artistic plan behind the creation of his character. That is to say, through the presentation of this character Shaw has attacked the outdated and false feudal ideals which are no longer relevant and realisable in the modern society which is urgently in need of those ideas and principles which the dramatist has undertaken to advocate. Unlike other principal characters he does not undergo any transformation save a degradation from his position, which Shaw deliberately chose to illustrate in order to show his socialist principles in favour of a classless society. The audience, however, cannot be sure of the creative and sustaining capacity of the woman who literally traps him, not out of any creative motive but for material possessions and social position.
Sergius is presented in the beginning of the play in perfect imitation of the theme of appearance and reality in conventional drama. As the curtain opens Shaw presents him in a photograph as “an extremely handsome officer, whose lofty bearing and magnetic glance can be felt even from the portrait.” The person in the photograph is highlighted to the point of being adored with Catherine’s breaking the news of his great victory in the battle of Slivnitza and with Raina’s ecstasy about the man of the moment.
The adorationn soon gets transformed into comic disgrace of impractical foolery. Here his cavalry charge reminds us of the suicidal cavalry attack in The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson, which Shaw perhaps had in mind while conceiving of his character. As Bluntschli exposes his foolishness, the photograph turns into a comic curiosity of the audience and their focus is now shifted on to the fugitive. Sergius’ foolishness is further emphasised in Major Petcoff’s sarcasm, from whom the audience do not expect much insight:
“Yes so that he could throw away whole brigade instead of regiments.”
With the actual entrance of Sergius on the stage Shaw devotes a long passage of explanation for the understanding of his personality. What we gather about him is that he is a split personality, not purely in the psychological sense, but in the cultural sense. Shaw points to multiple contradictory features which are detached from common sense and practical intelligence and aligned with false ideas. In other words, he is given to lost ideals, which arose out of the feudal structure of the society and imperialist motive of the whole western civilisation supported by the glittering ideas of Enlightenment.
When it comes to dealing with practical affairs of warfare, he fails miserably. But instead of confessing his worthlessness, he hypocritically tries to justify it by saying, “This hand is more accustomed to the sword than to the pen”. This proves nothing other than catering amusement to the audience. This form of hypocrisy is further detected in his charge of deception against Raina while himself being fully conscious of his own digression is in flirting with Louka behind her back. His false confidence, based on the supposedly unquestionable aristocratic power and position and on being a male member of that society, receives a terrible blow when Bluntschli accepts his challenge for a duel coolly without a question. He understands a change in Raina’s mind but cannot anticipate that he can be equally charged by the new woman empowered with a voice: “Do you know that I looked out of the window as I went upstairs, to have a sight of my hero; and I saw something I did not understand then.” As he finds out that all his pretensions of heroic and romantic ideas are gone, he holds on to cynicism and declares: “Life’s a farce.” But his pride still remains and he acts in accordance with the false sense of honour while apologising to Louka, the maidservant in chivalric fashion. This ironically leads him to fall into the trap laid by the strong-willed woman who readily captures him.
Finally it can be said that his acceptance of Louka as his wife is truly heroic in the sense that he comes out of his fanciful self and acts out of reality principle. But the audience cannot be sure of higher order out of their union. They leave him at the mercy and good and strong will of the woman he marries. What a pity!