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Mother Courage

Bertolt Brecht

Scene Three—Part II

Scene Three—Part I

Scenes Four and Five

Summary

Three days later, the remaining characters sit eating anxiously. Swiss Cheese worries that his sergeant is wondering about the cash box, and the Chaplain complains of having no one to preach to. Mother Courage has sworn herself a Catholic to keep the canteen safe. The Chaplain asks Swiss Cheese what he plans to do with the cash box. Spies are everywhere, the Chaplain even found a one-eyed fellow sniffing his excrement. Courage also commands her son to leave the cash box where it is. She leaves with the Chaplain, and Kattrin clears the dishes.

Swiss Cheese resolves to return the cash box, daydreaming about his sergeant's reaction. Two men-an enemy Sergeant and the Man with the Bandage over his eye—confront Kattrin. They ask if she has seen a man from the Second Protestant Regiment and she flees in terror. The men withdraw after seeing Swiss Cheese. Oblivious to the imminent danger, Swiss Cheese prepares to leave. Kattrin does all she can to warn him but to no avail.

When Courage and the Chaplain return, Kattrin desperately tells her mother what has happened. Suddenly the two men bring in a struggling Swiss Cheese. Mother and son pretend to not know each other. Nevertheless, Courage strongly suggests that Swiss Cheese give up the cash box. The men take him away, and Courage follows.

That evening, Kattrin and the Chaplain appear rinsing glasses and polishing knives. The Chaplain sings "The Song of the Hours," a song that recounts the passion of Christ. An excited Courage enters, declaring that they must buy Swiss Cheese's freedom. Yvette has picked up a hoary old Colonel who might buy the canteen from her. Courage plans to pawn the wagon and reclaim it after two weeks with the money from the cash box. Yvette seduces the Colonel into the purchase. He exits. Stopping her as she counts the merchandise, Courage sends Yvette to bribe One Eye with the 200 guilders. She thanks God men are corruptible, as corruption is their only hope.

Yvette returns and reports that One Eye has agreed. She also relates that Swiss Cheese confessed under thumbscrews that he threw the cash box into the river when he was near capture. Courage hesitates and decides that she will not be able to reclaim the wagon. She asks Yvette to return with a new offer of 120 guilders.

Courage sits to help polish the knives. She muses that they will get Swiss Cheese back, that the war will never end, and that she was once offered 500 guilders for her wagon. Kattrin flees, sobbing behind the wagon. Yvette returns, One Eye rejected her offer, and Swiss Cheese's execution is imminent. Desperately, Courage orders Yvette to tell him that she will pay 200. "I believe—that I've haggled to long" she murmurs.

Drums roll in the distance. Yvette appears and Swiss Cheese has eleven bullets in him. The army remains convinced that they are hiding the cash box. They are coming with the body. She asks if she should keep Kattrin away and Courage asks that she bring her. Two men enter with a stretcher with a sheet over the top. Raising the sheet, the Sergeant asks Courage if she can identify the body. Courage shakes her head. The Sergeant orders that the body be thrown into the carrion pit: "He has no one that knows him."

Analysis

Here Mother Courage loses another child while conducting business. Her haggling over the bribe poses a question prefigured in her joke earlier that Eilif has been speculating in maternal love: how much is a child worth to its mother. Using Yvette as a messenger, this carefully crafted scene raises the tension on- stage with each of her successive and increasingly angry entrances, entrances that foretell Swiss Cheese's demise. As if the butt of some grim joke, Swiss Cheese ends up riddled with bullet holes. He suffers twice over, dying a sort of "second death" in the presentation of Swiss Cheese's body, a death Yvette also announces. His mother refuses to identify him. This symbolic death, denying him recognition and his membership within Courage's family, exiles him to the carrion pit. This death is already prefigured in the first scene, where Courage and her son must pretend that they are strangers.

In some sense, if Courage cannot bear witness to her son's murder, the silent Kattrin does so for her brother. Kattrin first emerges as witness in Scene One with the recruitment of Eilif. Here, she functions as witness twice, helplessly watching Swiss Cheese walk off to his demise and standing by her mother when she refuses to identify the body. In a sense she bears witness to her brother with her silence in a way the garrulous Mother Courage, forced to lie twice for her survival, cannot. Left impotent in her muteness, the innocent Kattrin appears as a sort of horrified bystander, literally silenced by the traumas of war. Raising her voice against the war will ultimately mean her demise, the act of intervention demanding a self-sacrifice that brings the witness to martyrdom.

The play's investment in Kattrin's martyrdom seems strange in its commitment to exploring the social contradictions at the heart of the war, since it remains critical of martyrdom almost everywhere else. The Chaplain's comparison of Swiss Cheese to the crucified Jesus seems awkward and overly pious at best. Swiss Cheese does not die a noble death, the irony of his demise lying in his stupidly unwavering honesty. Simply put, the audience wonders why he does not let the cash box go.

Interestingly, Brecht's production of Mother Courage underscored the strangeness of the play's music to the action by lowering a musical emblem on- stage whenever a song did not directly arise from action or arose from it but remained clearly apart nevertheless. This unrealistic element intended to break the illusion on-stage and raise the music to its own reality, a reality distinct from the action. This decomposition of the dramatic illusion, an effect Brecht pitted against Wagnerian notions of the "total work" of art, would again distance the spectator from the spectacle and force him to consider the interaction between the various elements of the play.

Along with the fatal haggle, this sequence features another extended scene of exchange: the pawning of the canteen. Yvette, the camp prostitute, figures as another commodity in this economy of flesh, exchanging her body by the money to buy the canteen which will in turn allow Courage to buy her son's life. In the Model Book, Brecht presents Yvette's Colonel as a "negative entity," a lecher whose primary function is to demonstrate, somewhat violently, the price Yvette pays for her work.

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