Mother Courage: Scene Two
Summary of Scene Two
In 1625 and 1626 Mother Courage travels through Poland in the baggage train of the Swedish army, where she meets her son again near the town of Wallhof, which is besieged by the troops. Mother Courage is arguing with the Swedish Commander’s Cook who is in the kitchen next to the Commander’s tent.
The Cook and Mother Courage haggle over a capon she tries to sell him for the Commander’s dinner. She points out it does not make any difference who is besieged or doing the besieging, the troops have nothing to eat. The people of the town have all the food. She describes the soldiers as so hungry they are digging up roots.
Meanwhile, the Swedish Commander, a Chaplain, and Eilif enter the Commander’s tent. The Commander is honoring Eilif as a hero and promising him a gold bracelet when they win the town. Mother Courage listens as her son is praised for his deeds. It has been two years since she has seen him. The young man asks for meat for dinner, and Mother Courage uses this to prod the cook into buying the capon from her.
Eilif relates to the Commander how the peasants of the town had hidden their oxen. Eilif made his men hungry so they would want meat. They went after the twenty bullocks, and the peasants attacked with clubs. Eilif pretended he wanted to buy the cattle from them, and when they were not paying attention, he hacked them to pieces. Eilif excuses his behavior by saying “Necessity knows no law” (p. 38). The Chaplain points out that saying is not in the Bible. The Commander says he needs brave soldiers now.
Mother Courage in an aside to the Cook who is also listening, insists that he is a bad Commander if he needs brave soldiers instead of plain soldiers. It is a sign something is wrong. Virtues like courage, loyalty, and heroism are needed when a king or general is weak.
The Commander shouts for meat while he drinks with Eilif, and Eilif sings “The Song of the Wise Woman and the Soldier” while doing a war dance with his saber. The song recounts a dialogue between a soldier and wise woman who warns him against going to war. The soldier claims he can never be hurt. Mother Courage listening finishes the song for him, telling how the soldier dies because he ignores her advice. Eilif hears her singing and enters the kitchen to embrace his mother. She tells him Swiss Cheese is the paymaster for the Second Regiment; she could not keep him out of war but at least out of danger.
Commentary on Scene Two
Eilif is turned into the kind of ruthless soldier the Commander needs, and he tells him he has fought nobly for God. This hypocrisy is satirized: everyone treats Eilif as a hero for butchering peasants and stealing their cattle. The song seems to symbolize the advice of Mother Courage to her sons, as she had already been trying to keep them out of the war. The soldier’s point of view in the song is that he cannot be harmed. The wise woman of the song comments: “Your glorious deeds do not warm us!” (p. 48), meaning, no matter how brave the deeds, they do not provide comfort or help to the victims of war. Mother Courage seems to be against war and violence, but at the end of the scene, she does not reproach Eilif for his brutality. She is proud of him. For the moment they both overlook the wise woman’s warning in the song about the inevitability of the soldier’s meaningless death.
Only the Chaplain points out that Eilif’s excuse for murder is not in the Bible. The Bible says “love thy neighbor” but these Protestant troops are killing because the town is Catholic.
Mother Courage’s character as a mother is evident in this scene. She is very protective. She explains to the Cook that she has a brave and clever son, a stupid and honest son, and “The daughter is nothing” (p. 37). She is thankful Kattrin is dumb at least. This does not seem very kind to her daughter, but later it is clear that she wants her daughter to stay hidden and look ugly for protection. Her pride in Eilif at the end of the scene confirms that she condones his action because he was successful in winning fame.