Mother Courage and Her Children | Study Guide

Bertolt Brecht

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Mother Courage and Her Children | Scene 11 | Summary

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Summary

Twelve years have now passed since the play began, and two years since Mother Courage parted company with the cook. Mother Courage has parked her cart, "much the worse for wear," on a peasant family's farm and gone into town to buy supplies. Kattrin watches as two soldiers approach and force their way inside the house. They order the son to show them the path into town, but he refuses because the soldiers are Catholic. However, under threat of having their livestock slaughtered, the boy agrees to take the risks. After they leave, the peasant father climbs to the roof and spots an army in the distance. Distressed because the sentry hasn't seen the troops approaching and because the Catholic forces will surely "butcher" the entire village, they fervently pray for protection for the village's innocent children. Hearing this, Kattrin rushes to the rooftop with a drum from her mother's cart and frantically beats it, hoping to alert the sentry. The two soldiers return and try to muffle the sound of the drum by noisily chopping wood. When that doesn't work, they shoot Kattrin off the roof, killing her. As she falls, distant cannon shots can be heard: the sentry heard her alarm.

Analysis

In this scene Kattrin's drum symbolizes her resistance to wartime violence. Throughout the play Kattrin has been portrayed as rather a helpless victim, resigned to her hopeless fate. In this scene, however, something shifts as Kattrin realizes she has one chance to act. Because Kattrin desperately wants children, it is no surprise she gives her life—the life she never would have been happy living—to save the lives of children. As the soldiers' frustration grows because they cannot silence Kattrin, her character becomes stronger, even more determined to succeed. Kattrin, a character who has been brutalized and victimized by the violence of war, realizes for the first time she has some power after all. She laughs in the soldiers' faces as they set up their gun to shoot her, drumming ever louder. All that matters to her now is to alert the sentry and thus protect the village. Unlike the soldiers who die to line a leader's pockets, Kattrin gives her life for the greater good.

Brecht sends another strong message to audiences in this scene about the worthlessness of religion during wartime. Rather than take real action to save the lives of the villagers, as Kattrin does, the peasants decide there is nothing to do but pray—after the peasant family has essentially betrayed the village by sending the son to lead the enemy, thus saving their oxen. Their subsequent inaction comes across as hypocritical and worthless as does the chaplain's belief in himself as a spiritual leader.

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