Mother Courage: Scene Five, Six

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Summary of Scene Five

The headnote states two years have passed while the war becomes wider. The wagon has crossed Poland, Moravia, Bavaria, Italy, and Bavaria again. Tilly’s victory at Magdeburg in 1631 finds Mother Courage and Kattrin serving soldiers in that war-ravaged town plundered by his troops. One soldier has a woman’s fur coat on.

Mother Courage tells the soldiers to pay for their brandy, but one of them complains he got to the town too late for plunder. The Chaplain runs in saying he urgently needs linen for bandages for a family of peasants. Kattrin tries to get her mother to respond. Mother Courage says she is not tearing up her officers’ shirts for peasants. The Chaplain carries in a peasant woman. He asks her why she stayed in the line of fire. She says to save their farm. The soldier says these are Protestant peasants, implying Mother Courage should help them. Another soldier says, no they are Catholics. It is hard to tell who is who in a bombardment. Another peasant is brought in without an arm. Mother Courage does not budge and will not give them linen to bind their wounds. Kattrin hears a baby crying in the farmhouse and runs to save it. Kattrin brings the baby out of the ruins. She is happy rocking and singing to it, but Mother Courage makes her give it back to the mother, at the same time she allows the shirts to be used for bandages.


Commentary on Scene Five


Mother Courage is as selfish as ever but gives in to help the peasants because of Kattrin’s brave deed of saving the baby. Though Mother Courage calls her daughter useless, we begin to see the beauty of her spirit. Kattrin has been on the road with her mother her whole life, but she has not become hardened. She still has a human heart.


In every scene Brecht shows how war works, how it perpetuates itself, and how it makes people act in a brutal manner. The soldiers are hungry, not paid, working under terrible conditions, and their officers relieve the pressure by allowing the men to plunder as they move through the country. It is pointed out that the peasants are the ones who always pay, and it makes no difference if they are Catholic or Protestant. Violence is not particular. The sergeant in the first scene had praised war as bringing organization and order, but the opposite is true. The fields are trampled, so peasants and soldiers alike are hungry. By now, a victory is meaningless. All are beginning to suffer.


Summary of Scene Six


At Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Mother Courage is present during the funeral of the fallen Catholic Commander, the Count of Tilly, in 1632. In her canteen tent, the Chaplain and regimental Clerk play draughts while Kattrin and Mother Courage take inventory of their goods. It is raining.


Mother Courage recounts Tilly’s death on the battlefield in a fog, accidentally killed by cannon fire. There will not be any church bells because the churches have been destroyed. The men are skipping the funeral, drinking at the canteen. She only lets the officers in the tent; the men have to drink in the rain. Mother Courage feels sorry for the generals and kings and emperors who want to conquer the world, because their great plans are ruined by little men without vision: “the common riffraff only wants a jug of beer” (p. 74). The Chaplain does not agree with her cynicism; he trusts the soldiers “to fight a hundred years, one war after another” (p. 74). He predicts the war will go on, and so Mother Courage decides to go to town to buy more supplies. Soldiers offstage seem to confirm the Chaplain’s prediction as they sing, “We must be hating, hating, hating,/ We cannot keep our Emperor waiting” (p. 76). Mother Courage sends Kattrin to town for the supplies in the company of the Clerk. She knows buying is risky. There is talk of peace with Tilly fallen.


The Chaplain warns Mother Courage she has been smoking the pipe of the Cook who left it in her wagon. He says the Cook is sweet on her, and she should look out because he is a Don Juan. She needs a man, however, and he, the Chaplain, could fill the need. Mother Courage ignores his wooing and tells him to keep chopping firewood. Kattrin runs in with the goods her mother wants, but she has a cut across the head from an attack. The mother bandages her and tries to soothe Kattrin by giving her Yvette’s red boots. Kattrin crawls into the wagon. The mother laments she is going to be ugly now and won’t get a husband. She curses the war.


Commentary on Scene Six


Even the great are cut down in war. Johan Tzerclaes, the Count of Tilly (1559-1631), famous Commander of the Catholic allies, dies by accident in a fog. There is talk of peace with his death. Courage’s ironic speech about how the small men get in the way of the great men’s plans to conquer the world carries an important point. She says, “Even Emperors can’t do it all by themselves” (p. 74). This is a key doctrine for socialist and communist philosophy. The workers and peasants produce everything, though they have no control over their products stolen from them by the “great.” They have no control over their lives either, as the soldiers are cannon fodder. They sing, “We must be dying, dying, dying,/ Our Emperor’s greatness glorifying!” (p. 76).


Kattrin’s accident in the village while getting goods for her mother is full of implications. Mother Courage brings up the fate of women during a war—how they are taken up and abandoned by men, and she hints at even worse. Though never stated directly, it seems Kattrin has probably had her share of sexual abuse. Her mother insinuates that is why she is dumb; she had some sort of trauma with a soldier when she was a girl. She may have received more than a cut on the head in the village. Mother Courage complains of Kattrin’s secrecy and silence about what happens to her. It is obvious she worries about men trying to take advantage of her daughter and makes light of her or smears ash on her face to make her look ugly. Now she will not need to worry. Her face is all cut up and will be scarred. It will be hard for Kattrin to be married now. She tries to cheer her up by giving her the red boots that no longer interest her. The red boots are an implied metaphor for Yvette the prostitute. Kattrin is fallen in some way, unsuitable for a husband. Mother Courage curses the war, but it is still the beast that drives her.



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