Mother Courage: Scene Four
Summary of Scene Four
Mother Courage waits outside the tent of the Catholic forces to complain to an officer about her treatment.
The clerk warns her not to complain. She was hiding a Protestant paymaster in her wagon. She declares her innocence, saying they tore her wagon to shreds and made her pay a fine. He replies she should keep her mouth shut. They only let her go because they need canteens. She insists on speaking to the Captain.
While she waits an angry soldier comes in to complain also. He is angry because the Captain took his reward money and spent it on drink. He swam the river and saved the Colonel’s horse, and now he wants his reward. Mother Courage defends the man’s right to his reward but tries to calm him down. He says he is hungry, but she points out his troops trampled the crops in the field. He says he will not stand for injustice, and she asks him “How long won’t you stand for injustice?” (p. 66). Once he is put in the stocks, she says, he will cool off. He would need a very long rage to sustain his sense of injustice. She sings him “The Song of the Great Capitulation” about her youth when she believed she “was a special case” (p. 67). She thought she was the master of her fate, but then experience taught her to march with the rest. Now she tells the wisdom she learned: we make friends; we scratch each other’s backs; we don’t stick our necks out. The soldier walks out the door without complaining, and so does Mother Courage.
Commentary on Scene Four
Mother Courage remembers what she has learned so far and talks herself and the soldier out of filing a complaint. Better to march with the rest. This scene completes the former scene where Mother Courage demonstrated her ways of capitulation. She was so afraid of not making a buck that she speculated on her own son’s life. Her song shows us how she got to this place where she has become a hardened person, playing the game with everyone else: you have your contacts, you do favors so you can ask favors, and you do not stick out your neck. This is the world’s wisdom, learned through experience. The scene implies that only the young and uninitiated can afford to have rights, see injustice, or absolute right and wrong. As one travels the road of life, one must sing the song of capitulation, giving in to the way it is. Ideals do not take you through life, as her children, Swiss Cheese and Kattrin prove. Mother Courage survives only because of her toughness, born of long disillusionment and a constant capitulation.