Arms and the Man: Act 3

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Summary of Act III

 

The scene opens in the Petkoff library after lunch. The library only has few books and is used primarily as a sitting room. In the middle is a table, where Bluntschli works to get the regiments home in an orderly fashion. He writes up the orders, and Sergius signs them, while Major Petkoff reads a newspaper, Catherine embroiders, and Raina lies on a divan in a dreamy mood.

 

Petkoff mentions he wishes he had his old coat to make him more comfortable. He hasn’t been able to find it. Catherine tells him it is in the blue closet where it always is. Catherine rings the bell and summons Nicola to go to the blue closet and get the coat. Petkoff bets his wife a new piece of jewelry that it isn’t there. He tries to get the others to join in the bet, but Catherine won’t let them, knowing her husband will have to pay. Nicola comes back with the coat and says it was in the blue closet.

 

The orders are finished, and Bluntschli tells the Major and Sergius they should deliver them personally. Petkoff asks his wife to come too as the troops will be far more frightened of her.

 

Bluntschli and Raina are alone. She comments that he looks much better than the last time she saw him. She asks if his army was angry with him for running away, and he says no because they all ran away too. She then says coyly that it must have made a great story about how she hid him in her room. He says yes, it was a great story, but he only told it to one friend on whom he could rely. Raina explains that his trusted friend told it to Sergius and her father during the exchange of prisoners. Bluntschli is shocked. She insists that if Sergius finds out the story is about her, he will challenge Bluntschli to a duel. Bluntschli has therefore compromised her and is no gentleman, because her relationship with Sergius is based on truth, the one beautiful thing in her life.

 

Bluntschli quips that she lied that morning about the chocolate-cream soldier! Raina claims it is only the second time she has told a lie. The first time was to save his life from the Bulgarians. Raina gets indignant and paces the room. Bluntschli comments that when she strikes that noble pose, he finds it impossible to believe anything she says. Raina instantly gives in and asks, “How did you find me out?”(p. 51).

 

Raina is happy that a man has seen through her acting. She admits she has been dramatic since childhood, and that Sergius believes in her pose. Bluntschli replies that he is her admirer as much as Sergius is. Raina asks what he thought about her sending him her portrait?

 

Bluntschli did not see the portrait, which she put into the pocket of her father’s coat. They realize the portrait must still be in the coat. Louka enters then with the mail and puts letters on the table. She now wears a bracelet over the bruise on her arm. The letters are for Bluntschli and the messenger waits.

 

Bluntschli reads the letters and announces that his father is dead. He will have to leave to take care of his affairs. His father has left him a lot of hotels. He is now a rich man. He runs out of the room and Louka accuses him of having no heart for his father’s death. Raina follows Bluntschli as Nicola enters.

 

Nicola has been looking for Louka. He shows her money that various family members gave him for covering up for them. He offers to give her some to spend on herself. Louka refuses the money, contemptuous that he sells his soul in this manner. She says he will never be master of her.

 

Nicola reminds her of all the tips he has given her on raising herself up to be more lady-like. If she plays her cards right with Sergius, she could turn out to be one of his aristocratic customers instead of his wife. He tells her, however,  she is too sharp-tongued. She must act like a lady if she wants to get Sergius. Louka says she has to be herself.

 

Sergius enters, and Nicola implies to him that he has been scolding Louka for reading; she is always trying to rise above her station. When alone with Louka, Sergius begins flirting with her, asking how her bruise is. He refuses to apologize for the bruise. Louka asks if the poor men in the cavalry charge had to be any less brave than the officers. Sergius says no; all the soldiers were brave and slashed the enemy, but the poor soldiers are still afraid of their own officers. Louka says that Sergius does not know what true courage is.

 

Louka declares that if she were Empress of Russia she would marry the man she loved, which no queen in Europe has the courage to do. But he, Sergius, would not have the courage to marry her if he were in love with her, for fear of what others thought. Sergius, challenged, denies he would not have the courage. He just happens to be in love with another woman, he tells her.

 

Louka says Raina will not marry him now that the Swiss has come back. Sergius is thunderstruck to learn his rival is Bluntschli. Louka says that Bluntschli is worth ten of Sergius, and furthermore, Sergius is not good enough to marry her (Louka).

 

Sergius is discouraged, but he reminds Louka before she goes out the door that she belongs to him because she loves him, and if he ever touches her again, he will be touching his future bride. He stands proudly as if to say he has given his word and will not relent.

 

Bluntschli comes into the room, and Sergius accuses him of being his rival for Raina’s affections. He challenges him to a duel. Bluntschli accepts. Raina enters and asks what the fight is about. Bluntschli says he doesn’t know, but not to worry, he is so good with a sword that Sergius won’t touch him, and he won’t hurt him. After the fight, he’ll leave and they can make up.

 

Sergius accuses Raina of being in love with Bluntschli, and Bluntschli replies that is ridiculous; the young lady doesn’t even know if he is married or not. Raina blames Bluntschli’s friend for spreading the story about her, and Sergius says it was not the friend who told it to him. She guesses it was Louka and then accuses him of flirting with her behind her back. She says that Sergius should actually fight with his rival, Nicola. Sergius is consumed with anger and jealousy to think that Louka is already engaged. Sergius and Raina argue, but Bluntschli’s good nature prevails, and soon all are laughing at the absurdities.

 

Sergius finds Louka listening at the door and drags her into the room. She admits her love for Sergius. Major Petkoff enters and asks what is the matter. Everyone is quiet. Nicola enters with Petkoff’s newly mended coat and Raina rushes to take it from him, pulling her portrait out of the pocket and throwing it on the table while Bluntschli covers it with a piece of paper, as Sergius watches them, amazed. Their trouble is in vain, for Major Petkoff has already seen the photo; he repeats the message that was written on the back: “Raina, to her Chocolate Cream Soldier: a Souvenir” (p. 66).

 

Petkoff tries to solve the mystery, walking up to Sergius and asking if he is the chocolate- cream soldier. Sergius denies it. Bluntschli reveals himself and says Raina saved his life by giving him chocolate. Petkoff gasps at finding his wife and daughter are the women in the story who saved the enemy. Raina remarks that she did not know Bluntschli was married, and Bluntschli protests that he is not married. Petkoff asks Raina in some exasperation whom she is engaged to, and she says neither man. The only engagement is Louka to Sergius. Petkoff replies in confusion that Louka is engaged to Nicola. Nicola denies this.

 

Bluntschli pronounces Nicola the ablest man in Bulgaria and vows to make him manager of one of his hotels. Louka comes forward to tell Sergius he owes her an apology. As he kisses her hand on bended knee, she reminds him of his vow and claims they are now officially engaged. He consents, putting his arm around her. Catherine enters, shocked at this scene of Louka in Sergius’s arms. Louka explains that she knew Raina would not marry Sergius if the Swiss came back. This alerts Bluntschli to the surprising truth that Raina cares for him. He admits he came back for another look at her, though he thought her far above him. When he finds out that Raina is of age, he asks for her hand in marriage.

 

Petkoff objects, saying they are aristocrats, and Bluntschli is a nobody. Bluntschli produces the papers showing he owns two hundred horses, seventy carriages, and a whole list of possessions proving he is quite wealthy. After objecting to being given to the highest bidder, Raina gives in, saying she gives her hand not to a rich man but only to her chocolate-cream soldier.

 

Commentary on Act III

 

Through all kinds of unraveling moments, the romantic couples switch places, producing interclass marriages,  aristocrat with servant (Sergius and Louka), aristocrat and bourgeois (Raina and Bluntschli). The war is over, and a new society begins with greater equality, even as the class divisions were breaking down in the Europe of Shaw’s time. When Bluntschli reveals his new wealth, Petkoff asks him if he is Emperor of Switzerland. Bluntschli replies that he is the highest rank in Switzerland: a citizen. Switzerland had the reputation of being a land of freedom and equality. During centuries of religious persecution, many fled to Switzerland for a refuge. It was there that new ideas of political and religious freedom were born. Bluntschli is a middle-class hero but an egalitarian. He congratulates Louka on her engagement, calling himself a Republican. It is implied that he will grant Nicola’s desire to move from servant to businessman by putting him in charge of a hotel.

 

Shaw himself was a socialist who believed the class system was outdated. Bulgaria is depicted as a medieval holdout of ancient custom, trying to catch up with modern changes. The intermarriages signal the future as much as the electric bell. Romance, whether in terms of war, relationships, or the class system, must give way to modern realism. Shaw blows away the past in a humorous fashion.

 

The turning point in this act comes when Bluntschli confronts Raina’s acting as a romantic heroine as a pose. Instead of being angry, she is relieved to be found out. Now she can be more real. Shaw is saying that the same thing is true of society in general. People are walking through an old fashioned drama. They need to be real, because romantic illusion is a dangerous thing.