Character Analysis Raina Petkoff

Raina is one of Shaw’s most delightful heroines from his early plays. In the opening scenes of the play, she is presented as being a romantically idealistic person in love with the noble ideal of war and love; yet, she is also aware that she is playing a game, that she is a poseuse who enjoys making dramatic entrances (her mother is aware that Raina listens at doors in order to know when to make an effective entrance), and she is very quixotic in her views on love and war.

Whenever Raina strikes a pose, she is fully aware “of the fact that her own youth and beauty are part of it.” When she accuses Bluntschli of being “incapable of gratitude” and “incapable of any noble sentiments,” she is also amused, and she is later delighted that he sees through her “noble attitude” and her pretensions. In fact, her attraction for Bluntschli is partly due to the fact that she can step down off the pedestal which she must be upon, metaphorically, whenever she is in Sergius’ presence. She shocks her mother when she says that she would like to shock Sergius’ propriety since he is such a “stuffed shirt.” Yet, at first, she is filled with undefined ideals. She admires Sergius’ victories, but she is also genuinely troubled by the reports of the suffering and slaughter that accompany the war. She does respond immediately to the plight of the Serbian soldier (Captain Bluntschli), even though just a few moments earlier, she was delighting in Sergius’ victory over the Serbs. And when there is the possibility of an actual slaughter taking place in her room (the Swiss soldier vowed to kill rather than be killed — even though we later discover that this was a bluff since he had no bullets), she impetuously decides to hide him and help him escape. When Bluntschli ridicules Sergius’ quixotic cavalry charge, she pretends to be offended, but she is secretly glad that her intended is not “perfect.”

Of Raina, Shaw wrote in an essay entitled “A Dramatic Realist to his Critics”:

The heroine [Raina] has been classified by critics as a minx, a liar, and a poseuse; I have nothing to do with that: the only moral question for me is, does she do good or harm? If you admit that she does good, that she generously saves a man’s life and wisely extricates herself from a false position with another man, then you may classify her as you please — brave, generous and affectionate; or artful, dangerous, faithless — it is all one to me. . . .

Raina, then, is perhaps a combination of all the above qualities. She is romantic, for example, when she remembers an opera (Verdi’s Ernani) in which a member of the aristocracy shelters an enemy; thus, she shelters Bluntschli, since it is “chivalrous” to protect him. She does possess exalted ideals, but she is also pleased to step down from her pedestal and enjoy life directly; finally, in spite of her aristocratic background, she marries a person with “the soul of a hotel keeper.”