Character of Bluntschli/Bluntschli as an anti-hero

Character of Bluntschli/Bluntschli as an anti-hero

It has been said that Bernard Shaw is a “narrow interpreter of the sphere of humanity”, to borrow a phrase from Ben Jonson. He seizes on one of our common human nature and places some situations in which it is shown, or rather satirized. His characters are more like abstractions rather than real men and women of many inclinations. In fact, Shaw’s heroes are not men with a passion but with a mission. They are shrewd, calculating and cynical with a sound sense of humour and sufficient apprehension of what practical life is.

The central characters of modern plays are fairly insignificant figures: they are ‘anti-heroes’, meaning that they are just ordinary people as opposed to the great men and women of the traditional plays. Captain Bluntschli, Bernard Shaw’s spokesman in Arms and the Man, is often dubbed as an anti-hero since he is characterized by these qualities which are ordinary and down to the earth. He is the man’ in the play, the anti-hero who is apparently cool, different and pragmatic with no romantic illusions. Bluntschli first appears on the scene as a fleeing soldier to take shelter in Raina’s bedroom. His concern for personal survival prompts him to behave in an ungentlemanly fashion to a degree which realistic for a fugitive soldier but shocks those readers brought up and nourished by the gallant behaviour of the literary heroes.

Bluntschli is a professional soldier with no illusion about brave heroic deeds or about ideals that civilians may have about soldiering. He fights for money, not for patriotism. He laughs at Sergius’ heroic cavalry charge and describes it as a piece of unprofessional bungling. An unheroic hero, Bluntschli is an ordinary soldier of flesh and blood who is afraid to die. He carries chocolates in his cartridge boxes instead of bullets since he has found the food to be more important than ammunition in the war. It is a basic human instinct to save one’s own life against all odds and soldiers are not exceptions. Hence, Bluntschli comes out with the truth in front of Raina: “…it is our duty to live as long as we can”. However, he is not a coward in the petty sense. In this connection, Chesterton said, “Bluntschli tries to turn his own heroism into a sort of superhuman thrift”.

Bernard Shaw has portrayed Bluntschli as an average realistic soldier who is ready to fight when he must but is glad to escape when he can. He accepts Major Petkoff’s invitation to stay and helps to plan the return of Bulgarian soldiers. In quickly solving the problem of transport and supplies, Bluntschli shows his efficiency in contrast to the incomplete Petkoff and emotional Sergius. Taking life as a matter of course, he is neither surprised nor agitated, neither hurt nor too much excited at any element of unexpectedness. Raina is initially irritated by his rude practicality when Bluntschli asserts, “when you strike that noble attitude and speak in a thrilling voice I admire you, but I find it impossible to believe in a single word you say”. But Raina finally realizes that unlike others Bluntschli treats her seriously instead of pretending to believe in her flights of fancy-talk.

At the end of the play, Bluntschli surprises by saying that he is a romantic who joined the army instead of taking up his father’s business. Moreover, his second visit to Petkoff” household to have another look at the girl speaks a lot about his romantic disposition. In fact, Arms and the Man presents a world where a man who lives with no illusions and no poetic views about either love or war, is shown to be a superior creature. Such a man is, according to Shaw, “naturally great”.

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