"Arms and the Man" by George Bernard Shaw: Class and Social Critique in the Play
Throughout Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw, slight variances are used in the speech of the characters to indicate class distinctions. It is clear that Shaw, a noted socialist, has a great deal of concern about class issues and instead of making the reader keenly aware of these notions throughout Arms and the Man via any direct mention, Shaw uses their dialogue as well as cues within the setting to reveal these elements. “Despite the prominence of debate and speechmaking in his plays, one sometimes forgets that before Shaw-the-playwright came Shaw-the-debater and public speaker. All were platform spellbinders” (Dukore 385).
Part of the reason it is so easy to forget that there a number of encoded social messages within Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw, is because is remarkably deft at conveying injustices and problems through characterization and language. Shaw’s writing style is thus very critical of the Victorian-era society yet instead of doing this overtly, he relies on gestures, dialogue, and setting to set the stage for the debate. His “public speaking” would, in this sense be limited to the voices of his characters who come from variable class backgrounds and have a system of language that is suitable for their class. Only through this mode can George Bernard Shaw open a platform for class debates.
At the very beginning of Arms and the Man, the reader is already cued into the class differences that will plague the text until the end. For instance, the introduction of Raina is not one that values her inner life, but those of outer appearances, something that is of great importance to her and her family. Without dialogue, she is introduced, “On the balcony, a young lady, intensely conscious of the romantic beauty of the night, and of the fact that her own youth and beauty is a part of it, is on the balcony, gazing at the snowy Balkans. She is covered by a...