Mother Courage: Scene Eleven, Twelve
Summary of Scene Eleven
It is now January of 1636. Catholics are threatening the Protestant town of Halle. The war is not anywhere near the end. The wagon is in ruins, standing near a farmhouse at night. This is the point where Mother Courage loses her daughter.
A Catholic lieutenant and three soldiers knock on the farmhouse door. When the peasant woman opens it, they enter, grabbing Kattrin off the wagon and making her come in too. The peasant mother, father, and son explain Kattrin is dumb. Her mother is in town buying up stock because the shopkeepers are running away. The soldiers want someone to show them the path to town. The peasant son refuses until they threaten to kill the cattle. He leads them. The old peasant climbs on the roof and sees the Catholic army moving toward the town with cannon. The town is asleep. The peasant woman says they must pray for the town, and she asks Kattrin to pray with them. The old woman begins praying out loud for her four grandchildren, whom she describes in detail. The eldest is not seven. Kattrin begins groaning. She goes to the wagon, gets her drum, and climbs onto the roof of the farmhouse. Kattrin keeps beating the drum to wake the town, even when soldiers come and tell her to stop. They promise to spare her mother if she stops, but the peasant son explains it is not just because of her mother. She keeps drumming, and they threaten to smash the wagon. She keeps drumming. The young peasant yells to Kattrin to keep drumming or the town is done for. She continues until the soldiers shoot her. By then, the town is awake and ringing its bells and shooting its cannon at the invading army. Kattrin dies.
Commentary on Scene Eleven
Even as the war makes Mother Courage hard, it makes Kattrin sensitive. She cannot bear to witness suffering. She had even tried to revive a hedgehog the cart ran over, her mother explains. Once the peasant grandmother begins praying for her grandchildren who are asleep in the town, Kattrin goes berserk and gives her life to save them. She has become a hero. The Cook would say her virtue has done her in, but perhaps she could not bear to contribute to the brutality of the world any longer. Her noble deed affirms something greater than selfishness. There is still a spark of humanity left somewhere, even in this dark time.
Summary of Scene Twelve
It is near morning. Near the wagon Mother Courage sits with Kattrin’s body as the peasants stand near by.
The peasants tell her she must go with the last Protestant regiment leaving the area. She cannot get away by herself. Mother Courage says perhaps Kattrin has fallen asleep and sings her a lullaby that ends with “One lad fell in Poland. The other is—where?” (p. 110). Kattrin and Swiss Cheese are gone. She does not know what happened to her other son, Eilif. She tells the peasants they should not have told Kattrin about the children. The peasants keep reminding her it is time to leave; her daughter is dead. The wolves and bandits are roaming. They promise to give Kattrin a proper burial. Does she have any family left she can go to? Yes, she says, she has Eilif. She harnesses herself to the wagon and hails the soldiers going by to wait for her. The soldiers sing that the war is not stopping; it may last three generations “But God may yet come down and save us:/ His holy war won’t end today” (p. 111).
Commentary on Scene Twelve
Mother Courage was doing business as usual, buying goods when Kattrin was shot down. And her last words as she picks up the wagon to go on are: “I must get back into business” (p. 111). She is old, alone, and not even aware, as the audience is, that all her children are gone, including Eilif. Conditions are worse and worse in the war, yet Mother Courage is a survivor. Nothing so far has been enough to stop her, and one wonders if anything can. The play has covered twelve (1624-1636) of the thirty years of the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants in Europe (1618-1648) and yet, Brecht makes it seem in these few scenes that we have lived through years and years of it with the characters. By ending it this way, just cutting it off, he shows the futility of war. It never gets anywhere but consumes every drop of life. We assume Mother Courage will keep going until she drops dead with her cart someday.