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In 1632, the canteen sits before the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt during the funeral of Commander Tilly. Mother Courage and Kattrin take inventory while the Chaplain and a Clerk play draughts. They sit inside the canteen tent and outside it rains.
Counting her merchandise, Courage ruminates on Tilly's death. Courage confesses her pity for the Commander: men of his stripe undoubtedly leave special plans unaccomplished, something worthy of a monument. These plans are always spoiled by the "littleness" of the underlings who should carry them out. The Chaplain laughs at her subtly subversive speech. She asks him if he thinks the war will end; she needs to know if she should buy more supplies.
The Chaplain responds that heroes grow on trees and that, though the war might be imperfect, someone will always pull it out of the hole. A Soldier at the counter begins singing a cynical call to battle. Scandalized, the Clerk asks the Chaplain what he thinks of peace. The Chaplain responds that war has its islands of peace. Moreover, it satisfies all needs. You can take a crap, drink, screw, nap, and onward. War is like love—it always finds a way.
Courage resolves to buy new supplies. Kattrin bangs a basket of glasses on the ground and runs out, distraught. Courage has promised her a husband come peacetime. Courage goes back and consoles her daughter. She then sends her to town with the Clerk to fetch some supplies and they exit.
The Chaplain commends Courage on her courage. She replies that the poor need it because they need it to wake in the morning, plough their field during wartime, raise their children, face each other, and suffer rulers who would cost them their lives. She sits, smokes her pipe, and asks the Chaplain to chop her some wood.
He comments on the pipe. Upon learning that it comes from the Cook, he jealously maligns its owner's character, angrily bringing the ax down on the chopping block. Courage warns him against breaking the block. The Chaplain laments that he has no talent for physical labor. He is a great preacher, rousing his listeners out of their senses and providing them with warmth. Courage responds that she needs her senses, and that firewood provides warmth best. Brandishing his ax, the Chaplain pursues his courtship: he wants to cement his bond with Courage. Courage refuses him laughingly.
Suddenly Kattrin enters with wound across her eye and forehead, dragging the supplies behind her. She was attacked en route and permanently scarred. Courage attempts to console her, giving her Yvette's boots. Kattin leaves the boots and enters the wagon. Counting the scattered merchandise, Courage bitterly curses the war.
Courage appears at the height of prosperity, dragging the wagon and its new wares along a highway with the Chaplain and Kattrin. She wears a necklace of silver coins. She declares that she will not let "you" spoil the war for her; war feeds its people. She sings "The Song of Mother Courage" anew.
As in scenes previous, Scene Six is framed by Courage's tireless work, in this case an inventory. Courage work is inexorable like the war itself. Thus Brecht notes that the Chaplain's extended speech on the longevity of the war must not play separately from Courage's anxiety over supplies; she makes calculations during the entirety of the Chaplain's monologue. Her commonplace inventory dictates the rhythm of the scene, punctuating its action. This action largely consists of two "historic moments," the funeral of Tilly and, in the "little people's" history of the war, the disfigurement of Kattrin.
Read more about an important quote by Courage regarding the war.
With regard to the death of Tilly, Courage appears as a sort of wise woman, wryly delivering what the Model Book calls her own funeral oration on the fallen Tilly. The stage notes indicate that the Clerk in this scene constantly watches Courage in hopes of catching her in some incriminating speech. Her sarcastic commentary on Tilly is far too subtle. Her taking of inventory through her oration, moreover, brings out the irony of her reflections. For Brecht, Courage's laughter upon these disruptions expresses the merriment she must hide in her evasively subversive speech.
Halfway through the scene, Courage interrupts her work, taking her first break in the play. Increasing prosperity has softened her. The Chaplain takes advantage of this pause to propose to her. Courage puts him in his place, deflating his appeals to her heart. She is simply trying to survive and he is her dependent. He would do best by making himself useful.
The war interrupts this failed courtship with Kattrin's disfigurement. Notably, she incurs this wound while defending her mother's merchandise. As the Model Book indicates, Kattrin blames her mother for her disfigurement. Prior to her final entrance, the scene heightens the tragedy of her mutilation with the allusions to her hopes of marriage and her flirtation with the singing soldier at the counter. For Brecht, these are the last moment she appears "capable of love." Scarred, she becomes a ruined woman, thus the poster introducing the scene ironically summarizes Kattrin's wounding as her acquisition of the prostitute's boots. Kattrin rejects this unthinkingly cruel gift, Courage suggesting in not so many words that she can now play the whore freely as no man will have her.
This "historic moment" leads Courage to curse the war. Nevertheless, as Brecht notes, the scene leaves us with a "contradiction." Courage bends to take the inventory of the very goods that cost Kattrin her face. Scene Seven takes this contradiction to one of its logical conclusions. Once again, bedecked in the signs of prosperity, Courage fails to learn from her family's suffering and celebrates the war anew. Riding across the battlefields, she evokes allegorical representations of death and war itself, calling out against all those, the at once indeterminate and intensely personalizing "you" who would spoil her work. The all-encompassing nature of the war, in both time and space, become apparent in the new verses of her song. In war, both the man who stays at home and makes a bed to sleep in and the man who hurries along to some resting place dig themselves an early grave. The materialist allegory recurs as well, and Courage cries, "War is a business proposition."
Read more about business practices as a motif.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Mother Courage and Her Children!