Mother Courage: Scene Seven, Eight
Summary of Scene Seven
Mother Courage is at the height of her business career. On a highway, the Chaplain, Mother Courage, and Kattrin pull the wagon. Mother Courage wears a necklace of silver coins. She exults in her success and sings a song about war: “War is a business proposition” (p. 82). She counts herself as one of the living, full of gusto. Why find a hole to hide in? It is just an early grave. War is for the competent: “Those who stay at home are the first to go” (p. 82).
Commentary on Scene Seven
Mother Courage is on top now, but she seems to have forgotten that sooner or later everyone dies in a war. Still, this scene shows why she is a survivor. She has an indomitable spirit and seems to like to take risks.
Summary of Scene Eight
The headnote states that it is 1632, the year Gustavus Adolphus fell in the battle of Lützen. Peace will ruin Mother Courage. It is a camp on a summer morning. An old woman and her son are dragging their bedding to the canteen to see if Mother Courage will buy it from them.
Mother Courage tells the old woman and her son that no one wants their bedding; people don’t even have houses. The young man will not be discouraged. They need money for taxes. He tells his mother to give her bracelet too. Suddenly bells start ringing, and there are shouts that the war is over. The King of Sweden is dead. Mother Courage is upset; she has just bought supplies. The shouts say the war stopped three weeks ago. Lutherans brought the news. The old woman has collapsed from shock because she did not think the war would ever end. Her son assures her he will get their shop going again, and they can take the bed back to his father.
Mother Courage decides she is glad about the peace. She got two of her children through the war—Kattrin and Eilif. Just then the Swedish Commander’s Cook comes in with a bundle as though he expects to hook up with Mother Courage again. She asks where Eilif is, and the Cook says he is on the way to see her. Kattrin is too ashamed of her looks to serve the Cook his brandy: “Peace is nothing to her, it was too long coming” says her mother (p. 85).
Mother Courage tells the Cook she is ruined because she took the advice of the Chaplain to buy goods. He has been helping her with the wagon, she says. The Cook believes the Chaplain does more than the dishes for her. When the Chaplain returns the Cook scolds him for telling Mother Courage to invest in goods. The Chaplain turns on Mother Courage and berates her for wanting war, not peace, so she can get a profit. The Cook jumps in and tells Mother Courage to start unloading her goods right away.
Yvette enters, calling herself Madame Colonel Starhemberg, a wealthy widow. She is shocked to see the Cook whom she calls her Peter Piper, the man who initially ruined her. While Yvette fights with the Cook, Mother Courage tells Kattrin to give Eilif some brandy when he comes; she is going to market to get rid of her goods. Yvette leaves.
Eilif enters with two soldiers guarding him. He wants to say good-bye to his mother before he is executed for robbing and killing peasants. The Chaplain asks him how he could do that and Eilif shrugs: “It’s no different. It’s what I did before” (p. 92). The Chaplain remembers how Eilif was honored for doing the same thing in war. Now it is peace, and he is hungry just doing what he knows how to do. The Chaplain offers to come with him as his priest and leaves. He tells the Cook not to tell Mother Courage what happened but to say that Eilif will come later.
Mother Courage runs in breathless to the sound of cannon, explaining the peace is over. She is dragging her goods with her. They must leave because the Lutherans are shooting up the town. The Cook says Eilif was here but had to leave. Mother Courage assumes she will meet him in the war somewhere. This time she will be on “our side,” meaning the Protestant side. She brags that the war didn’t get Eilif because he is smart. She tells the Cook to stay with her and help her. The Cook and Kattrin pull the cart while Mother Courage sings “this war needs you!” (p. 94).
Commentary on Scene 8
King Gustavus Adolphus the Great of Sweden (1594-1632) was the brilliant Protestant general of the war that determined the balance of power in Europe by his victories. He established Sweden as a great power and would have been a notable leader in Europe but for his untimely end. He is considered one of the world’s great military commanders (“the father of modern warfare”) with a highly trained army and good weapons and artillery. Unlike the other commanders, he did not use as many mercenary soldiers, so the army’s morale was higher and more unified.
Brecht brings up another familiar problem about war: what to do with veterans who only know a life of violence? They have been trained to kill. The Swedish soldiers were not paid when they were laid off, and it was common then, as now, for veterans to be poor and out of work after a war. Eilif is not sorry for what he did. He only knows the morality of war and survival, like his mother. The Chaplain and the Cook, both boyfriends of a sort to Mother Courage, protect her from the knowledge that Eilif goes to an ignoble end after his initial glory.
Both men find shelter with Mother Courage and become part of her workforce. It is implied that she does not want the Chaplain to sleep with her, but she does not mind the Cook, who is a notorious lover. Once again, Mother Courage is out doing business while her children perish. She might not have saved Eilif, but she could have said good by to him. She never finds out about his death, at least during the play. Her prediction to him in the song of the wise woman and the soldier has come true. Her bragging about Eilif surviving is a bit of tragic irony since the audience knows the truth. The war continues to eat up everyone, and yet she starts out once again in good spirits.