Major Petkoff and Catherine are typical secondary characters, with funny occasional opinions and repetitive comments, such as those of the “electric bell” or the so famous unique “library” in all Bulgaria. They are characters that would normally be used to lower the tension in different types of plays. Yet, Arms and the Man, is a comedy and hence not many high-tension scenes are found. Their role additionally, adds more humour to the play, especially in those dull scenes where humour is expected to be used in order to break down the monologues, to change the subject or merely to accelerate the pace by altering the tone used.
Yet, their role is much more extensive. Catherine Petkoff for instance, also supports her daughter with everything she says or does, even to the point of lying to his husband about the “chocolate cream soldier” and accepting a “refugee” in her house. Probably due to a great and impressive mother-daughter relationship, yet, it is also possible that Raina is constantly controlling her mother for her own purposes, as she later accepts that she uses the “noble and the thrilling voice” which her parents “believe in”. Either way, the role Catherine is very clear; she is a supporting character.
Moreover, we can also appreciate through Catherine, why Raina is the way she is, so conceded, as a direct result of her mother’s attitude. It seems to some extent, that Raina is not permitted to grow up as she was raised in a perfect ‘bubble’ which does not let her admire the “real world”. Hence, she is forced to act and pretend to be somebody she is not, in order to get what she wants.
Yet, Catherine appears to be shallower than Raina in respect to the romantic ideas of war and heroism. At least Raina is conscious that these ideas might have come from reading too much novels by “Byron and Pushkin”, however, Catherine convinces her wrong. Moreover, Catherine is a character that does not only believe in heroic acts and romantic ideas, but is incredibly unaware that her husband is in the army due to his economic position and not to his admirable skills in the “art of war”. Furthermore, at the end of Act III, Catherine does not accept the proposal of captain
Bluntschli to marry Raina, as she wants to maintain her “daughter’s position” as the “Petkoffs and the Saranoffs are known as the richest and most important families in the country.” Thus, this attitude reflects how her ideals of romanticism include a surplus amount of money. Yet, to compensate this Catherine includes a ridicule comment, “Our position is almost historical: we can go back for twenty year”, which causes laughter, even though it is not intended to and hence altering the tone of the play.
We can therefore observe, that the real role of Catherine as a supporting character is not only to coincide with her daughter and help her in any situation but is also based on occasional repeated jokes to highlight an idea, to lower the tension of a scene or to alter the tone that the play is following.
Major Petkoff on the other hand, although he seems to be a pretty neat and flat character just like Catherine, is more into his work as a military than into dealing with insignificant issues such as the electric bell. Yet, he also has funny comments, as “She always appears at the right moment”, with which he, adds humour to the dramatic scene that follows, interpreted by Sergius and Raina. His reaction to Captain Bluntschli’s proposal is that of acceptance from the beginning. Yet, as he finds out that he not only loves her but has more than enough money to support her and maintain her lifestyle, he comments that he “shall be only too glad” continued with a cheery comment, as he cannot believe Bluntschli owns “Two hundred horses! Whew!”
On the other hand, unlike Catherine, Major Petkoff has seen the “real world” but does not really belong to the battle camp, as his position has not been achieved through his merits as a military leader, but due to his wealth and economic status. He is the reflection of the ignorance of the “art of war” and the image conveyed by his actions and comments, of a cheery happy old man, does not help.
Nevertheless, Major Petkoff also helps to unfold the play, by two actions, which lead a chain of events, and hence his participation and his role become indispensable for the play to develop. For instance, when he insists Captain Bluntschli to stay for dinner, as a mere excuse to get aid from him to deliver the “Cavalry charges (…) to Philippopolis”. Yet, if both Major Petkoff and Catherine would not have insist on him to stay, the proposal to Raina might have never happened. Hence, Major Petkoff, together with Catherine, despite the fact that are supporting characters, do alter the outcome of the play.
Hence, we can appreciate how does Bernard Shaw uses both supporting characters for various purposes, such as lowering the tensions found in some scenes by humour through simple jokes or ironic comments. They are also used to compare and contrast how does the ideas of a romantic war and heroism differs from an inexperienced women who believes in brave soldiers, solemn nationalist and heroic attitudes as a result of reading romantic novels, to a experience soldier, despite the fact that his position was achieved due to his wealth, which has seen and apply strategies in battle. Finally, through some actions they are able to change the course of the play and thus their role become of real importance for the final outcome.