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Mother Courage

Bertolt Brecht

Scenes Nine and Ten

Scene Eight

Scenes Eleven and Twelve

Summary

Scene Nine

By the autumn of 1634, the war has taken half of Germany's population. A hard winter has come early. Everyone is starving, the towns are razed, and only begging—rather than business—remains. Courage and the Cook appear in rags before a half-ruined parsonage in Fichtelgebirge. They ring to ask for food, but there is no answer. Courage suggests that they sing for their alms.

Abruptly the Cook tells her that he has received a letter from Utrecht: his mother has died of cholera and left him the family inn. Recounting the woes of the land, Courage confesses that she tires of wandering. "The world's dying out" the Cook responds, inviting her to join him at the inn. She must, however, decide whether she will join him immediately.

Courage calls Kattrin and tells her of the plan. The Cook asks to have a word with her alone. Once Kattrin has returned to the wagon, he tells her that they must leave Kattrin behind with the wagon. There is no room for her, and the customers do not like to look upon disfigured mutes. Courage does not know what to do; Kattrin overhears the conversation.

Calling to the parsonage, the Cook sings "The Song of the Great Souls of the Earth." It recounts the fates of Solomon, Julius Caesar, Socrates, and Saint Martin, all of whom meet their dark destinies on account of their respective virtues—that is, wisdom, bravery, honesty, and pity. Thus, a man is better off without such qualities. A voice calls them inside. Courage decides she cannot leave her daughter, and they enter the parsonage.

Kattrin climbs out with a bundle, laying a skirt of her mother's and a pair of the cook's trousers on the ground as a parting message. Courage emerges with a plate of soup and stops her daughter. They toss the Cook's belongings on the ground, harness themselves to the wagon, and depart. The Cook enters, still chewing, and sees his abandoned possessions.

Scene Ten

During 1635, Courage and Kattrin follow the ever more tattered armies from central Germany. They come upon a prosperous farmhouse on the highway. A voice inside sings of the house's prosperity through the seasons. Courage and Kattrin stop to listen and then start out anew.

Analysis

In the midst of the world's "dying out," Scene Nine offers Courage her apparently last opportunity to settle down. This opportunity, however, demands the abandonment of her daughter. The Model Book insists that the Cook not appear brutal in imposing this condition; he only enumerates the practical considerations that make it impossible for Kattrin to accompany them. On her own part, Courage genuinely considers his proposition. The stage notes indicate that in this scene she addresses Kattrin as if she were deaf—just like the Cook might. This change in tone indicates her ambivalence at remaining with her daughter.

Standing apart from the scene's action is the "Song of the Great Souls of the Earth," a song partially taken from The Threepenny Opera. Though, like much of the play's music, it functions autonomously from the events on stage, we should not lose sight of the occasion for its singing. With the trio starving, the Cook must deliver the song for bread. The song attempts to hock virtue as merchandise, sell it for food: "try honesty, that should be worth a dinner" cries the Cook. The double entendre refrain—"A man is better off without"—is certainly ironic. That is, a man might be better off without virtues but not without bread.

The song is also an allegory for the play itself. Eilif, as his Commander notes earlier, is the brave Julius Caesar; Swiss Cheese is the honest Socrates; and Kattrin the kind Saint Martin. Courage herself is the wise Solomon. The Cook's song thus rehearses Courage's game of fortune telling, in which her playing with fate yields the demise of her children. Each narrative of ruin reaffirms a programmatic theme of the play, which is that, during war, virtues become fatal to those who possess them.

Despite the straightforward nature of this allegory, there is dissonance between the song and character. Certainly, Swiss Cheese is no Socrates. Again, these dissonances would ideally like the spectator to question the figure. We question whether Swiss Cheese dies because of his excessive honesty. Either way, it is certain Kattrin's death and Courage's ruin are imminent. Thus, if occasionally figuring as a demon in the scenes previous, Courage and Kattrin will appear here as what the Model Book describes as "damned souls." Courage conjures her damnation in her confession to the Cook, imagining herself driving through hell with her wagon and selling brimstone if not driving through heaven distributing provisions to wanderers. Courage's toil stretches into eternity.

Courage's "damnation" explicitly appears in terms of class in the subsequent scene. Courage and Kattrin, harnessed to the wagon like workhorses, pass a farm that sings of its endless prosperity just after Courage has conjured a vision of their endless toil. The Model Book describes the voice within the farm as unfeeling, arrogant and self-assured, filled with pride of possession. Courage and Kattrin listen in silence, leaving the audience to imagine their thoughts. Certainly this juxtaposition is intended as a provocation, inciting the spectator to react against the injustice of the class system.

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