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English Paper 2 Breakout Room 1

Q) To what extent does the play arms and the man give voice to the marginalised
class ?
In every society there are class distinctions. ‘Arms and the Man’ by George Bernard Shaw, is
a play that shows the futility of war and deals comedically with the hypocrisies of human nature
of the 19th Century. He uses the play to mirror the class differences existing in the late 19th
century which led to unfair treatment of the working classes. Employees of the Petkoff
household namely Louka and Nicola are used to give voice to the marginalised community
and expose the vanity of the upper class and reveal their own aspirations.
Another materialistic character in the play is Nicola, the manservant, who has been in the
employment of the Petkoffs for a decade. Shaw describes him as a middle-aged man of cool
temperament and low but clear and keen intelligence with the complacency of the servant who
values himself on his rank in servitude, and the imperturbability of the accurate calculator who
has no illusions.
Nicola does not display even a hint of romanticism in the play. He is practical and resourceful
and is an efficient servant. Nicola's ambition is to have a shop of his own in Sofia (the Bulgarian
capital) and he prudently saves money towards this goal.
Nicola is conservative in his views regarding the class system. Fear of poverty keeps him
subservient. He believes that the way to get on in life is to know one's place. He is diplomatic
and is careful not to offend anyone. He seems to be willing to be as ingratiating as necessary
to keep himself in the good graces of the upper class. Louka looks down upon him for his
servile attitude towards his employers. She scornfully tells him that he has a 'soul of a servant',
but he regards such obsequiousness as 'the secret of success in service'.
As a servant, Nicola is very competent and dependable. While he has no fondness whatsoever
for his masters, he serves them faithfully: he keeps each individual's secrets to himself and
even pretends to be inept in order to prevent causing embarrassment to Catherine and Raina.
It was Nicola who taught Louka how to look after herself. He mentors and lectures her
regarding her manners and her attitude-though most of his advice is treated with disdain.
Although he is betrothed to Louka, he realises that Louka's marriage to Sergius would prove
advantageous to both her and to himself. He therefore helps Louka in her aim. The
materialistic Nicola prefers to see her as a rich customer bringing profit to him rather than as
a spendthrift wife!
Nicola demonstrates much astuteness in all his dealings. He cultivates the goodwill of the
family and does whatever is necessary to win the favour of potential patrons: I shall always be
dependent on the good will of the family. When I leave their service and start a shop in Sofia,
their custom will be half my capital: their bad word would ruin me. He even tries to buy Louka's
goodwill. Nicola shows himself to be a shrewd judge of men and matters and displays his
quick-wittedness in Act 2 where he covers Catherine and Raina before Petkoff and Sergius.
He is also quite opportunistic and ready to take advantage of any chance to earn some extra
cash. He is single-minded in the pursuit of his aim. He keeps aside part of his earnings for it.
He warns Louka that he will not marry her if she falls foul of the Petkoffs, for he would not want
to risk their displeasure. Finally, he gives up Louka so that she can marry Sergius, as he
believes this would help him in his goal.
Nicola's denial of his engagement to Louka leaves the others amazed. Sergius, in his attempt
to understand it, tries, typically, to fit Nicola's behaviour into recognisable romantic categories.
Bluntschli, however, calls Nicola 'the ablest man I've met in Bulgaria. He sees that Nicola's
efficiency and quick-thinking practicality, combined with his smooth, servile, ingratiating
manner makes him an excellent employee-and particularly suitable for a man like Bluntschli.
Louka is an ambitious servant in the Petkoff houschold, described by Shaw as 'a handsome
proud girl...so defiant that her servility to Raina is almost insolent'. Her defiance stems from
an awareness of her own merits and an independence of spirit that refuses to accept the
inferior social position that fate has placed her in. Louka is engaged to Nicola, who advises
her to accept her place in life; but she is determined to rise above her status as a servant, and
to this end pursues Major Sergius Saranof, who belongs to the gentry. Her strong personality
and her cunning help her to eventually win her man and a new life.
Unlike Nicola, Louka does not consider herself inferior to the upper class characters in the
play. She does not have the 'soul of a servant' that characterises Nicola, but instead possesses
a pride and sense of dignity that is missing in the older servant. She sees herself as Raina's
equal in competing for Sergius's hand. But she is very aware of the reality of her social
situation. Her little acts of rebellion-flouting convention by openly smoking a cigarette, carrying
a visitor's card in her blouse rather than on a salver, her careless manner and her pronounced
swagger are deliberate reactions to this. In Act 2, when she presents her arm for Sergius to
kiss, it is the act of a person who considers herself his equal. (Sergius is not yet ready to
accept this, which is why he vehemently refuses to oblige.)
All her actions are motivated by her aspiration to rise to a better position in society. We can
never say for certain if Louka is truly attracted to Sergius or simply to the better future that he
There represen is no doubt that she is a calculating, manipulative social climber: but Shaw
himself does not explicitly condemn her, and Bluntschl even congratulates her on attaining her
end. The implication is that she has earned it through her determination, her realistic outdook
and her Louka strength of conviction in her own worth. In the second Act, talks about 'true
Louka seems to possess a natural intelligence that enables her to see through Raina's
pretensions, Sergius's hypocrisy and Nicolas' limitations. Louka sees that despite their noble
attitudes, Raina and Sergius are no better than her. Of Raina, she insightfully remarks that her
fine airs are a cheat; and I'm worth six of her'. She is perceptive enough to recognise that
Raina is in love with the Swiss soldier: 'I know the difference between the sort of manner you
and she put on before one another and the real manner, she tells Sergius. She correctly
predicts that Raina will marry Bluntschli. Louka is shown to be in touch with her feelings and
true to herself.
Louka displays great shrewdness in the way in which she entraps Sergius. She responds to
his overtures of love, leading him on when he flirts with her. She is aware of the falsity of his
romantic posturing, and encourages him to doubt his idealistic notions even as she makes fun
of him. She then insinuates that Raina has been unfaithful to him, just as he has been unfaithful
to her. When Sergius asks her about his rival, Louka refuses to reveal his identity-not out of
any loyalty to Raina, but because she wants to have the advantage over Sergius. She shames
Sergius about the hypocrisy of his behaviour, first implying that he is not really brave, and then
claiming that he is 'not good enough' for her. He promises to marry her if he touches her again.
Later when she sees her opportunity, she blames him for the insults she receives from others.
She makes a carefully-worded demand for an apology that appeals to his romantic nature.
When he kisses her hand, she reminds him of his promise. As a final touch, she allows him to
withdraw his promise: this plays upon his romantic sense of honour, and he pledges that he
will do as he had sworn.
The character of Louka plays a dual role in the play. Firsthy, she is the instrument of Sergius's
redemption. Her outspoken and forthright manner forces him to examine his own nature, to
think about his hypocrisy, and thus, to face reality. His marriage with her will allow him to be
more true to himself. It will also enable him to see people as individuals, rather than as
members of a particular class. In this respect, Louka's function is similar to that of Bluntschli
(the difference between them being that while Bluntschli's ability to strip a person of his/her
illusions is based on a knowledge of the world, Louka's seems to based on a knowledge of
herself and an instinctive knowledge of others). Secondly, Louka is a medium for the
playwright's social commentary. She is an example of a person who successfully breaks free
from the shackles of social convention and class barriers.
The class system is also seen through the eyes of the lower class- the servants Nicola and
Louka. Nicola represents those members of the lower class who accept the class system
unquestioningly. He believes that as a member of the lower class, he can do well in life only
through the goodwill of his social superiors. Though he may despise them, he will,
nonetheless, subjugate himself and his dignity before his employers in order to secure a
comfortable living. Louka, on the other hand, looks upon the class system as an injustice
imposed unfairly upon her, and this is the reason for her aggressively defiant attitude in the
play. Unlike Nicola, whose modest ambition of opening a shop does not require him to move
beyond his current social condition, Louka seeks to break free from her lower position in
society. She pursues this ambition proactively, and we do not see Shaw condemning the
means she uses to achieve it. The odds are stacked against her, but Louka possesses a vital
energy that Shaw believed was necessary for social progress-in this case, a movement
towards social equality. In conclusion, the play ‘Arms and the Man’ by George Bernard Shaw
uses the identities of Louka and Nicola, the creative and communicative aspects in the
dialogue and gives a perspective or voice to the marginalised community.