Character of Raina in Arms and the Man
Table of Contents
Raina Petkoff is one of the foremost “problem heroines” of Shaw’s world of dramatic art. She differs from all other heroines of Shaw, in the scene that her entire character is architected by two psychological forces –
(1) romance-incubating and romance inspiring and
Her romantic sentimentalism is itself a psychological problem and her getting cured of the romance disease is equally a great psychological feat.
In Arms and the Man, the dramatist has employed her as a tool to criticize the stupid pride of nationalism and resultant jingoism. She is also a symbol of aristocratic as well as a common female gender that would always be sentimental and impractical about the truthful and bitter realities of the world.
- Arms and the Man 49 Questions and Answers
Raina’s Romantic World
Raina’s world is too idealistically romantic. She lives in the realm of romantic idealism far from the world of grim reality.
In the onset of the drama Raina is attributed just as any other heroine from the romantic tradition. The playwright 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.
Raina adores her fiance, a Bulgarian Army Officer, who has gone to the war, as an ideal hero. She worships her hero and calls him the fountain of her romantic inspiration.
She considers him an ideal romantic knight, whose Madona she herself is. She kisses the photo of her fiancé, Sergius, and going to bed she would be murmuring, “My hero! My hero!” When she meets her fiance Sergius, after his return from the battle front, she addresses him romantically-“My hero” and he, too behaves in the same romantic manner addressing her as, “My queen, my saint” etc.
Raina as a Romance Incarnate
Raina is an embodiment of romantic idealism. In her every breath and fibre there echoes a romantic note. Her conception of husband, marriage, life and even of war is deeply romantic. Her entire life is a dream of romance and idealism; in short, she is romance incarnate.
Raina: A Worshipper of Heroism
Raina is something of a Medieval Madona, whose one and only aim in life has been to adore and worship a hero, romantically. She believes that the highest and noblest aspiration of romantic maiden, like herself, is to paint, in her mind, a picture of a man exceedingly handsome, extremely romantic, exceptionally brave and superhumanly adventurous. Major Sergius, her would-be-husband, her sole hero whose chivalry and bravery, she worships in her heart. When her mother Catherine, describes the heroic feat of attack made by Sergius against the enemy soldiers, Raina murmurs-
“What will he care for my poor little worship after exclamations of a whole army of heroes?”
Again says she in a medieval romantic manner –
“Our heroic ideals… I sometimes used to doubt whether they were anything but dreams. Oh, what faithless little creature girls are! When I buckled on Sergius’ sword, he looked so noble…”
Raina’s Poetic Nature
Raina, besides being excessively romantic and idealistic has a poetic nature too. She has, in her, all the characteristics that go to make one a romantic poet. Living in a world of dreamy creamy idealism, she finds a romantic beauty in the starlit night. In the opening Act of the play we find her on the balcony, intensely conscious of romantic beauty of the night and of the fact that her own youth and beauty are part of it. When her mother comes to her asking why she is out in the chilly night, and that why she had asked the maid servant Louka to retire, she replies in a poetic manner- “I sent her away. I wanted to be alone. The stars are so beautiful!”
Raina glorifies war
Raina idealizes war. She thinks that it is war and war alone that can produce heroes, who are to be loved and adored romantically by maidens. It is war which according to her conviction raises the honour, dignity and esteem of young lover in the eyes of young maiden. She gets marvelously thrilled when she hear about the heroic cavalry charge made by the regiment, whose Commander was her would-be-husband, Sergius. She loves to hear each chivalrous and thrillingly gallant tales of war. When Captain Bluntschli puts before her a cold and dull conception of war and mechanically slavish life of a soldier, she feels annoyed. To her war is the greatest thrill- an eternally inspiring source of romance.
Raina’s Emotional Nature
Raina, like other romantic girls, is extremely emotional and sentimental. Her emotion is that of a utopian type. When alter describing to her the heroic feat done by her betrothed (Sergius) in the battle, her mother goes out, Raina left alone, takes off her fur cloak and throws it on the ottoman. Then she goes to the chest of drawers, and adores the portrait (of Sergius) with feelings that are beyond all expressions. She does not kiss it or press it to her breast or show if any mark of bodily affection: but she takes it in her hand and elevates it, like a young priestess. And looking up at the picture of her lover says:
“Oh, I shall never be unworthy of you and more, my soul’s hero: never, never!”
Raina’s Romantic Idealism Shattered
So long Raina was living marooned in the island of her fantastic romantic idealism. But at last she sees the reality of life and enters the world of concrete realism where there is no romantic illusion, no utopian idealism, but by facts and grim facts.
Captain Bluntschill, an enemy officer, who takes refuge in her room, at last cures her of her romantic idealism, and he is the first man, she met in her life, who makes her realize her true self. He takes her out of the romantic world of idealism and shows her the world of reality. In head long retreat with the defeated Serbs, Bluntschli rushes into Raina’s room from the outside balcony to take refuge. He is desperate through exhaustion and fear and Raina sneers at him. Nevertheless, when pursuers come to search the house, Raina hides the fugitive and denies having seen him. She learns after the pursuit is over, that he is a Swiss, lighting for the Serbs as a professional soldier. And she is again contemptuous when he tells her that instead of ammunition he carries chocolate pieces in his cartridge cases, having realized that food is more useful in battle than bullets.
Raina understands the crude reality of war
At Rain’s request that he should describe the great Bulgarian cavalry charge, Bluntschli tells her that its leader, (whom she knows as Sergius), rode like an operatic tenor with flashing eyes and lovely moustache thinking he’d done the cleverest thing ever known, whereas he ought to be court martialled for it. He made it clear to Raina that Sergius and his cavalry soldiers won the battle, simply on account of the fact that his opponents, the Serb soldiers, have no ammunition. And in case they had ammunition, Sergius, and his soldiers would have been killed then and there.
Raina realizes that war has nothing to do with romance
Bluntschli makes Raina realize that war has nothing to do with romance Soldiers fight because they are paid for this work. If they are not paid or promoted in their ranks, they would cease to fight any more. Thus, at last, he succeeds in removing from her mind the called romantic sentiments. He shows her real character beneath the romantic mask that she has won since childhood. He proves that not only had she substituted an imaginary Sergius for the real one, but she had also built up an imaginary self.
Raina’s marriage to Bluntschli
At last Raina comes to her real sell. She no longer thinks of war as a romantic game, nor does she arty longer think of marriage as the mating of a beautiful heroine and a handsome here in a lifelong romantic dream. Instead of the ornamental and fickle Sergius, she takes as her husband the plain Bluntschli, whose common sense and six hotels in Switzerland will give her stability and comfort.
To sum up it can be said that Shaw presents the birth of the new woman in Raina who advances from false idealism 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.