Brecht wrote Mother Courage and Her Children in 1939 when he was in exile from persecution in Germany and the Second World War had started. Brecht had to travel a lot as a refugee and this is reflected in Mother Courage. The play was written as a warning to people who were supporting the war and the Nazis. Brecht created the concept of Epic Theatre which was the opposite to Aristotle’s theory of time, and action known as Dramatic theatre.
Scene 1 is set in 1642 in Sweden. In scene 1 we are introduced to the characters of Mother Courage and her children, we also learn a bit of background and Mother Courage’s feelings about the war. She doesn’t want the children involved and predicts their deaths if they do get involved in the war. Despite her warning Eilif her eldest son joins the army. In this scene Brecht shows Mother Courage’s concern for her children is tempered by her love of business. She is rude and angry to the recruitment officer and sergeant, yet when they offer to buy something she is eager to help. This gives Eilif the chance to sneak off with the recruitment officer.
Scene 2 is set in 1626 in Poland. Mother Courage is haggling with the general’s cook over a small capon. She is offering an outrageously high price but the cook pays it as he needs the food. This shows that food is the currency of war and Mother Courage takes advantage of this so she can make a larger profit. Also in this scene Mother Courage hears her son Eilif being congratulated for killing some peasants and taking their cattle, however instead of praising him, Mother Courage slaps Eilif because he didn’t run away when he was being attacked.
Scene 3 is set in Poland in 1629. Mother Courage meets Yvette the town prostitute, who has VD. Mother Courage warns Kattrin, her daughter who can’t speak, not to get involved with soldiers or she will end up like Yvette, however Kattrin still tries on Yvette’s boots and copies her walk. This shows Kattrin’s sexual frustration and desire for a husband. The Imperial forces take over the camp and Swiss Cheese, Mother Courage’s other son and the regimental paymaster, is killed for stealing the cash box. His body is shown to Mother Courage but she shows no sign of recognition. In this scene Brecht show that Mother Courage’s business is more important to her then her children and she denies knowledge of Swiss Cheese so she can move on and carry on trading quickly.
Scene 4 is set in Poland in 1629. Mother Courage is waiting to complain to the colonel about damage to her cart. She meets a solider who is also there to complain but tells him that letting of steam in front of your superiors just gets you in more trouble. Both Mother Courage and solider do not make their complaints. Brecht is telling us that during war normal fairness doesn’t exist. This is show by the solider wanted to get paid for saving the colonel’s horse but instead he gets nothing.
Scene 5 is set in Saxony in 1631. Mother Courage enters a recently attacked village where many people are injured. Mother Courage refuses to give up her officers’ shirts to be made in to bandages as it would mean she would lose money. Meanwhile Kattrin saves a baby from a burning house. Here Brecht is showing the contrast between Mother Courage and Kattrin. The fact that Kattrin is willing to risk her life to save a baby shows that she is kind hearted, brave is maternal, while Mother Courage is not willing to give up the shirts because she is selfish, only cares about making money and isn’t maternal, not even caring much about her own children.
Scene 6 is set outside Magdeburg. The Imperial commander Tilly is dead and Mother Courage is worried the war will end and she will not be able to carry on her business. The Chaplain persuades her that the war will go on as there are “plenty of heroes to replace dead generals.” Mother Courage sends Kattrin of to get supplies while the Chaplain suggests a closer relationship. Mother Courage rejects him, saying she has no time for a relationship as she has to focus on her business. Kattrin comes back but she has been attacked, we learn that the reason why Kattrin doesn’t talk is because she was molested by a solider when she was a child. This scene shows that Mother Courage can only survive because of the war and therefore doesn’t want it to end. However Mother Courage loses faith in the war at the end of this scene as she has lost more than she expected her possessions and her children. Peace may be just around the corner and she is worried about her business
Scene 7 is set in 1631. Mother Courage’s business is doing well and she is celebrating the success. In this scene she is wearing a silver necklace which implies she was bribed to keep quiet about Kattrin. She is now much more enthusiastic about the war than the last scene and this is probably because of her business success and the bribe. This shows that as long as things go her way she will be happy and support the war. This also shows she cares more about her business and material wealth than about her daughter.
Scene 8 is set in Saxony in 1631. Peace has been declared. Mother Courage calls the “war a flop” because she can no long sell her goods and hasn’t made all the money she wanted to. The Chaplain calls her a “hyena of the battlefield” meaning she used the war and suffering of others to her advantage, almost enjoying it. Mother Courage goes to the market to sell all her merchandise before there is no longer a need for it due to the peace. While she is away Eilif comes by, he has repeated what he did in scene 2 but now because it is peacetime the penalty is death. Brecht is showing here that in war law and order changes and people can get away with things that are forbidden during peacetime. At the end of this scene war has broken out again and Mother Courage is happy, she can still carry on with her business.
Scene 9 is set in Saxony in 1634. The cook gets a letter saying his mother has died and he has inherited the family inn, he invites Mother Courage to help run it however he says Kattrin can’t come. Mother Courage rejects his offer saying it is because she can’t leave her cart or her business. Brecht here shows how much Mother Courage needs and loves her cart and how she would choose it over her children. This scene also shows that she likes travelling and making profits from the war father than give it up and lead a more settled life with the Cook.
Scene 10 is set in 1634. Kattrin and Mother Courage hear peasants singing about home, comfort and security. This is the opposite of Mother Courage’s life as she has no home, just the cart and no security because she has chosen to be part of the war. Brecht is telling the audience that if you support the war you will be like Mother Courage and end up without a home or safety.
Scene 11 is set in Saxony in 1636. Mother Courage has stopped by a peasant’s house. She leaves her cart and Kattrin with the peasants while she goes into the village of Halle. Soldiers come to attack the sleeping village. Kattrin hears about the peasant’s brother in law and his four children who live in the village. Kattrin gets on the roof of the house and starts drumming to warn the villagers. The soldiers and peasants try to persuade her to come down but she doesn’t listen and is shot. However she did manage to warn the village. Brecht shows again the difference between Mother Courage and Kattrin, as Kattrin gives her life to save the villagers and she dies a martyr while Mother Courage is doing business in the town and only cares about making money.
Scene 12. Mother Courage pays the peasant to bury Kattrin as she hauls her cart off alone, still going on to make a profit. She hasn’t changed even thought she has lost her family and friends. Brecht’s message in this scene is that no one can really profit from war and if they try to they will lose more then they gain.
Mother Courage goes on for about 12 years and she travels though many different countries. We learn more about the characters as we see them change. An example is Eilif, at the beginning he is hot-headed and arrogant but when we see him again in scene 8 he seems more grown up and aware of the effects of war. If this play was just set over a few days we would not see that growth. However Mother Courage doesn’t change throughout the play.