Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


The Verfremdungseffekt, alienation or "distanciation" effect, is the primary innovation of Brecht's epic theater. By alienating the spectator from the spectacle, its devices would reveal the social gestus underlying every incident on-stage and open a space for critical reflection. Often alienation also means making the workings of the spectacle possible, and decomposing the unity of the theatrical illusion. Brecht called for the spectator's alienation to oppose the mystifying tendencies of the conventional stage, tendencies that reduced its audience to passive, trance-like states. The possible techniques of alienation are endless. Slight chances in pace, alternative arrangements of the players on-stage, experiments in lighting, gesture, and tone. The success of each scene in Mother Courage hinges upon these devices. For example, Courage's "Song of the Great Capitulation," when played without alienation, risks seducing the spectator with the pleasures of surrender rather than exposing the depravity in the submission to an unjust authority.

Read about how Arthur Miller drew on the alienation effect in his original vision for his play A View from the Bridge.


At times the reader of Brecht feels trapped in a Marxist Gilbert and Sullivan musical. Rather than accompany or integrate itself into the theatrical illusion, music largely assumes an independent reality in Mother Courage, standing apart from the action. Brecht often underscored this separation by lowering a musical emblem whenever such a song would arise. Music is neither a simple accompaniment nor exclusively the expression of a character's current state, at times functioning instead in its autonomy as allegory, or as covert political commentary. Often it assumes a pedagogical function. Note, for example, how Courage teaches the soldier surrender through her song of capitulation or Yvette attempts to harden Kattrin to love through her "Fraternization Song."

Read about another play that has a stylized use of music as a motif, Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie.

Business Practices

Deemed a "damned soul" in Brecht’s Courage Model Book , Mother Courage works tirelessly, resting only once in the course of the play. Her haggling, careful inventory, and so on frame and punctuate the action, emphasizing its underlying the social gestus. Courage always protects her interests shrewdly, inquiring into the fate of the war with only her profit in mind. Her practices emerge from the social conditions that determine the characters, committing her to the war. Ultimately she will lose each of her children as a result. Moreover, as the final scene chillingly shows, so ritualized are these practices that Courage will not learn from her losses.