Mother Courage and Her Children | Study Guide

Bertolt Brecht

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Mother Courage | Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

A year later commander in chief Tilly of the Imperial Catholic forces, who led the victory in the previous scene, has died. In a twist of situational irony, the commander was shot by accident when he got lost in the fog as he was leaving the battlefield after "haranguing a regiment" about fighting to the finish. The regiment, also, has made the mistake of paying the soldiers before the general's funeral, so many have skipped the service to get drunk at Mother Courage's tent, although she won't let them inside with their filthy boots. She and the chaplain sit inside discussing wartime heroism as she takes stock of her supplies. The chaplain asserts the war will continue as long as men are willing to risk their lives to become heroes. Mother Courage, however, is more concerned with whether to raise her prices before peacetime.

The chaplain claims wartime provides peace because people actually enjoy the downtime between battles, an argument that angers Kattrin, who only wanted peace so she could marry. Mother Courage pulls out a pipe, belonging to the cook, and begins smoking. Horrified, the chaplain chastises Mother Courage for having a relationship with the cook, whom he does not trust. The chaplain tries to convince Mother Courage to enter into a relationship with him instead, but she's not interested. Kattrin returns from buying supplies and has a wound above her eye. Mother Courage blames the drunken soldiers, but the chaplain blames those in charge: the young men wouldn't have attacked Kattrin before the war, because war "brings humanity's lowest instincts to the surface." Mother Courage tries to cheer Kattrin by offering her Yvette's red boots, but Kattrin isn't interested. Mother Courage laments wartime has traumatized Kattrin, who is thus unlikely to find a husband anyway. She also reveals her fear of not seeing Eilif again and the reason for Kattrin's inability to speak—a "soldier stuffed something in her mouth when she was little."

Analysis

This scene focus on Kattrin's character. First, in revealing why Kattrin is mute Mother Courage implies Kattrin was raped. Now, in this scene drunken soldiers attack her and attempt to steal her supplies, leaving her with a large gash on her forehead. Mother Courage admits the scar may prevent her from finding a husband, but Kattrin seems to sense, even before the gash, marriage isn't in her future. The scar is merely a manifestation of deeper wounds, which already have incapacitated her.

Kattrin has been able to withstand the war because she has hoped for a peaceful future. However, she is angered by Mother Courage and the chaplain's conversation about peacetime, with Mother Courage hoping peace doesn't come and the chaplain suggesting it's a long way off. Retreating to the cart, Kattrin recognizes the war has stolen her chance at happiness, and her recent injury provides a physical reminder of the war's violence. Kattrin's rejection of Yvette's red boots, previously a symbol of romance, suggests her renunciation of romantic hopes.

This scene also highlights power struggles as the chaplain blames those in charge for the violence against Kattrin. Surely if military leaders take credit for their soldier's heroism, they should take equal responsibility for their crimes. War, the chaplain says, "brings humanity's lowest instincts to the surface," suggesting soldiers and officers—as well as civilians—behave reprehensibly.

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