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Mother Courage and Her Children | Study Guide

Bertolt Brecht

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Mother Courage and Her Children | Scene 4 | Summary



Shortly after Swiss Cheese's death, Mother Courage approaches an officer's tent to make a complaint about her cart being vandalized. The clerk warns her to "shut up" because everyone knows she hid the Lutheran paymaster before his execution. If she simply pays the fine and does what she's supposed to do, the Catholic forces will allow her to continue her business. As Mother Courage, undeterred, waits to demand satisfaction, an angry young soldier also arrives to make a complaint against the captain who stole his reward after he committed a brave act. An older soldier warns the younger man of the punishment that awaits him should he complain. Mother Courage questions why any young man would want to be a hero if he gets no reward. The young soldier laments how the colonel "whores away" money while his soldiers starve. Mother Courage then warns the young soldier his anger isn't worth the punishment. When he leaves, she realizes the same about herself and withdraws her complaint.


The primary purpose of this scene is to highlight the power struggles of war. Initially Mother Courage intends to make a complaint about her vandalized cart but during her conversation with the young soldier realizes there's no point. She has no time, energy, or resources for a "long anger." She warns the young soldier there's no point complaining if the punishment for complaining is worse than the original offense. In her "Song of the Grand Capitulation" she recounts her youth, a time when she had ideals. Now, as an adult, she is no longer idealistic and knows one must "capitulate" and give in to the people with power.

Admitting she will never bring about change or better her life by challenging the powers that be, she drops her complaint. Once again, the young soldier's anger reminds audiences those in charge benefit from the sacrifices of the hardworking poor. In this case the captain has stolen the young soldier's reward money, and while the soldiers go without food, he is spending it on "whores"—another act signifying his moral decay and the privilege power brings.

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