Mother Courage: Scene Nine, Ten
Summary of Scene Nine
The extensive headnote explains that the war did not stop. It has lasted sixteen years and Germany has lost half its people through war or plague. The countryside is devastated and wolves prowl the towns. Winter has come early in 1634 in the Fichtelgebirge where Mother Courage and the Cook, now in ragged clothes are not far from the road the Swedish army is on. The people are beggars, and business is bad. They stop in front of a ruined parsonage.
Mother Courage and the Cook are hoping there is someone in the parsonage to give them some soup, though everyone is starving now. The Cook says he has had enough. He has received a letter from Utrecht saying his mother has died, and the inn she owned is now his. Mother Courage replies she is tired of wandering. No one can buy anything of her: “Nothing grows any more, only thorn bushes” (p. 96). The Cook agrees: “The world’s dying out” (p. 96). The Cook suggests they open the inn together, and Mother Courage tells Kattrin if they go with the Cook, she can settle down, get a husband, and get rid of her lice. The Cook tells Mother Courage he did not mean Kattrin would go too. He does not want her as a baggage. He only invites the mother. Mother Courage objects that Kattrin cannot pull the wagon by herself; she is frightened of the war: “She suffers from sheer pity” (p. 97).
Seeing a light in the parsonage, the Cook sings for some food, “The Song of the Great Souls of the Earth” about Solomon, Julius Caesar, Socrates, and Saint Martin. The song points out that each of them suffered from their virtues, so it is better to be without virtue. The parson calls out they can come in for some soup. Mother Courage brings some soup to Kattrin in the wagon just as Kattrin is trying to take a bundle of her things and run away because she is not wanted. Mother Courage tells Kattrin she is not leaving her. She says she is firing the Cook; he is the last man in her life. They harness themselves to the wagon and leave.
Commentary on Scene Nine
Finally, Mother Courage does an unselfish thing. She cannot leave her daughter to save herself. The Cook points out that Kattrin is not likely to get a husband now; she is old and ugly, completely disfigured and traumatized by the war. Still, Kattrin is full of pity for others, and the mother seems to appreciate this better. She sees that men divide her from her own way, and the two starving women cling to each other. “The Song of the Great Souls of the Earth” is part of the Cook’s cynical point of view about virtue not giving any reward on the earth. Mother Courage has listened to the Chaplain’s and the Cook’s advice, but this time she lets the men go and follows her own heart.
Summary of Scene Ten
During 1635 Mother Courage and Kattrin pull the wagon in central Germany in the wake of the armies. Finally they come to a prosperous farmhouse where someone inside sings a happy song about spring planting, gardens, and the shelter of the farmhouse protecting them. They listen but then move on.
Commentary on Scene Ten
This musical interlude forms a stark contrast to the devastated landscape of war. It shows what life ought to be with prosperity, happiness, and security. The women listen, but they are now outcasts and move on.