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Mother Courage

Bertolt Brecht

Scene Three—Part I

Scene Two

Scene Three—Part II

Summary

Three years later, Mother Courage and Kattrin fold washing on a cannon. At the same time, Courage bargains with an Ordinance Officer over a bag of bullets. Swiss Cheese, now in a paymaster's uniform, and Yvette Pottier, the camp prostitute, look on. Yvette's red boots stand nearby.

Courage declares that she will not buy military property, reproaching the officer for selling ammunition when his soldiers have nothing to shoot with. The officer encourages her to sell them to another regiment and Courage buys the bullets. Giving Swiss Cheese his underwear, Courage enjoins her son to balance the regiment books. Even if the seasons do not come, the books must balance. He leaves with the Officer.

Courage remarks to Yvette that the war is drawing in more countries, thus her business prospects improve as well. Yvette is desperate because of rumors that she is ill and none of the men will touch her. She starts recounting a familiar story of her Dutch army beau, Peter dubbed Piper for the pipe he always carried in his mouth. The story should harden Kattrin against love. Yvette sings it in "The Fraternization Song," telling of his arrival, their affair, and his departure. She has spent the past five in a futile search for her lover. She moves behind the wagon, and Courage warns her daughter against military affairs.

The Chaplain and Cook appear. Eilif has requested money; Courage gives some to the Chaplain, chiding her son for speculating in maternal love. The Cook says she is too hard: her son may die at any moment. The Chaplain rejoins that to fall in a war of religion is a blessing to his skeptical interlocutors.

The three move behind the cart, talking of politics. This campaign has cost the Swedish King a great deal. Neither the Poles nor Germans wanted their freedom from the Kaiser, forcing him to subjugate if not execute them. He got nothing but trouble for his outlays and so he had to levy an unpopular salt tax back home. In any case, his justification by God kept his conscience clear. Without it, he could be accused of seeking profit alone. Courage and the Chaplain chastise their friend for his disloyalty and he eats the king's bread. The Cook disagrees; he does not eat his bread, but instead bakes it.

While the three converse, Kattrin's dons Yvette's boots and imitates her sashay. Suddenly cannons, shots, and drums explode: the Catholics have launched a surprise attack. The Ordnance Officer and a Soldier enter and attempt to move the cannon. The Cook departs for the Commander, leaving his pipe behind. The Chaplain remains, wringing a cloak from the reluctant Courage to disguise himself. Discovering Kattrin, Courage rips off the boots and smears her face with dirt. When a clean face appears before a soldier, another whore comes into the world. To her horror, Swiss Cheese arrives and stupidly hides the regiment cash box in the wagon. They quickly take down the regiment flag.

Analysis

Scene Three opens with a scene of haggling and ends with Courage nearly refusing the Chaplain a cloak, again presenting war as the continuation of business by other means. The metaphor appears most explicitly in a discussion of the war's politics by Courage, the Chaplain, and the Cook, a discussion that exemplifies the pedagogical intentions of the epic theater.

Initially Courage and the Chaplain share the received, nationalist opinions about the war, that the King only intended to liberate the Poles and Germans from the tyrannical Kaiser and had to retaliate when so unreasonably attacked by these nations. As Courage notes that the Cook is no Swede. The war, as the play suggests throughout, is about profit. Thus the economic metaphor is very appropriate, because the King got nothing but trouble for his outlays and goodness, forcing him to raise taxes back home. Religious serves to allay any guilt over his profiteering. The Cook's awareness of his social position contravenes any blind allegiance to the monarchy. As he tells the Chaplain, he does not eat the king's bread, he bakes it. The Cook understands himself in the service of the King's profiteering.

Ultimately Courage concurs, adding her own views. For example, the men serving the King are out for profit as well. Moreover, in such desperate times, the fact that men are simply out for money is their salvation, because it is the only means available by which the innocent can protect themselves. Later, like the Cook, Courage will note that the interests of the top and bottom socially are rarely synonymous, and often times the top's defeat is the bottom's victory. Ironically, the Chaplain protests these heresies by invoking the flag on Courage's wagon. As becomes clear in the sequence to follow, national loyalties change colors when survival is in question.

More important than the content of the trio's dialogue is that dialogue's staging. The talk takes place entirely behind the wagon. The play literally puts distance between the characters and the audience, hampering the spectator's tendency to identify with characters and thus hopefully impelling them to subject the dialogue to a new mode of analysis. This sequence, however, does not only confront the audience with disembodied voices floating across an empty stage. Instead, Kattrin appears trying on Yvette's boots and imitating her sexy walk. Such explicitly polysemic staging, that is, staging that makes use of multiple structures of Signification, has lead many critics to identify Brecht as a forerunner of postmodern drama.

In this case, the scene juxtaposes two apparently un-related forms of action. How a spectator might read them together remains unclear. In combining the most innocent character with a prostitute, Brecht notes in the Courage Model Book that Kattrin tragically seeks love through the only means available to her during war: that of prostitution. This reading probably overstates the case and it assumes Kattrin's identification with Yvette. It implies, in other words, that Kattrin wants to become a whore.

Thus Brecht's reading reduces Kattrin's fantasy to identification alone. Notably Kattrin dons the boots, which archetypal fetish object that is Yvette's most memorable feminine lure, in fantasy, as if she is daydreaming. Kattrin imagines herself in an erotic life that the war largely makes impossible. As we will learn later, the war will ultimately disfigure her, ruining her hopes of marriage. Moreover, Courage will intimate that her muteness is perhaps the result of some sexual trauma: "A soldier stuck something in her mouth when she was little." Certainly Courage herself would like her mute and stone-like, or free of any sexual desire. The condition she imposes on her daughter is a wartime necessity. As Courage notes, the boots and Kattrin's pride in feminine self-display stand to make her a whore—a victim of rape.

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