Mother Courage and Her Children | Study Guide

Bertolt Brecht

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Mother Courage and Her Children | Quotes


Wherever life has not died out / it staggers to its feet again.

Mother Courage, Scene 1

Mother Courage sings these words at the opening and the close of the play. At the beginning the song acts as a rallying cry to attract customers to buy her wares—those still alive should stagger out and buy something from her. But by the end of the play, it becomes a lament. She herself has lived while her children have died, and she must stagger through life alone.


Courage is the name they gave me because I was scared of going broke.

Mother Courage, Scene 1

When the sergeant asks for her identity papers, Mother Courage explains the origins of her nickname. The act of courage was to drive her cart onto the battlefield to sell 50 loaves of moldy bread to the troops. Mother Courage's driving "courage" is the profit motive that goes on and on—the will to face life-threatening danger to make money.


What would he be needing men of courage for?

Mother Courage, Scene 2

While listening to the general praise Eilif for his courage on the battlefield, Mother Courage remarks the general must be bad at his job. He, and war in general, wouldn't need courageous soldiers if these men weren't forced to put their lives at risk because the leaders either don't care or are incompetent—or both.


A bit of foresight, don't do nothing silly, and business'll flourish.

Mother Courage, Scene 3

Mother Courage remarks the war is going well, happily noting it might stretch on for another five or six years, and she'll continue to do a good business if she watches her step. Mother Courage appreciates war because it allows her to make a living, whereas she must struggle much more during peacetime.


Eat shit, that's what you got to do, or down you'll go.

Yvette Pottier, Scene 3

Yvette notes the power struggle felt by the poor during the war. Those who try to stand up to the ruling powers or try to make a living for themselves will suffer. This statement foreshadows Mother Courage's losses as she tries to manipulate the war to her advantage rather than simply accept her fate.


To fall in battle is a blessing, not an inconvenience.

Chaplain, Scene 3

The chaplain tries to convince the cook that dying in battle is a spiritual gift. Yet when the time comes to risk his own life, the chaplain would rather change religious affiliations—and ignore the men he is duty bound to serve—than emerge as a spiritual leader. This statement supports Brecht's view of religion as pointless and hypocritical.


Must keep a bit back.

Mother Courage, Scene 3

When Yvette reveals Swiss Cheese has thrown the cash box into the river, Mother Courage retracts her offer of 200 florins for his release. When faced with having to pay for her son's life, she continues her typical bargaining and thus loses in the negotiation. The price is not negotiable, and her son is killed.


I changed my mind. I ain't complaining.

Mother Courage, Scene 4

After visiting the general's tent to register a complaint about her vandalized cart, Mother Courage convinces an angry soldier it's not worth making a fuss over his stolen reward money, for the punishment in doing so may be worse than not receiving what he is due. During the conversation Mother Courage realizes the "little people," like her and the soldier, have no power, and there's no point sticking one's neck out to complain. It's a depressing capitulation to things as they seemingly must always be.


Poor people got to have courage.

Mother Courage, Scene 6

Mother Courage argues because of the power struggles during war, only the poor must be courageous. As soldiers at the front lines, their lives are at risk while the generals benefit. As workhorses, poor people do backbreaking labor, making the rich richer. No opportunities exist for the poor to better their circumstances, as the audience sees in Mother Courage's perpetual struggle.


Peace'll wring my neck.

Mother Courage, Scene 8

Although Mother Courage knows her children's lives—particularly Kattrin's—will be better during peacetime, she laments its arrival because she will no longer be able to make money as she has been doing all these years during the war. With her emotions dulled by war and profiteering, she values money more than happiness or safety.


You are a hyena of the battlefield.

Chaplain, Scene 8

The chaplain chastises Mother Courage for benefiting from the war and showing disdain for peacetime. He calls her a hyena, suggesting she benefits from the trauma of war like a hyena tearing into a corpse for its next meal.


Please spare our cattle, captain. It'd be starving us to death.

Peasant 2's wife, Scene 11

When faced with the choice between losing her cattle and endangering her son's life, the peasant woman, like Mother Courage, chooses the cattle. In her case this choice highlights her desperation and the expected lack of empathy of the enemy soldiers. She would rather her son die from aiding the enemy than her entire family die from starvation—a difficult choice.


Pray, poor creature! Pray! Nowt we can do to stop the bloodshed.

Peasant 2's wife, Scene 11

Because she relies on religion, for which Brecht has little use, the Peasant's wife believes herself hopeless to stop the slaughter of the encroaching army. While she prays, Kattrin instead launches into action, climbs to the roof, beats the drum, and alerts the sentry. Thus their prayers may have been answered but rather than by an act of God, their salvation came by a young woman's sacrifice of her life.


Look at her laughing at us. I'm not having that.

Ensign, Scene 11

When Kattrin beats the drum on the rooftop, she laughs in the face of male violence and therefore reclaims her power. For just a moment, and likely for the first as well as the last time in her life, Kattrin is in control. To rebalance the power struggle, the ensign orders the soldiers to shoot her.


Got to get back to business again.

Mother Courage, Scene 12

Mother Courage shows no emotion over her daughter's death. She pays the peasant woman to see to Kattrin's proper burial and gets back to work immediately.

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