Mother Courage and Her Children | Study Guide

Bertolt Brecht

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Mother Courage and Her Children | Scene 9 | Summary

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Summary

The following autumn ushers in a harsh winter. With business down, Mother Courage and the cook struggle to survive. They arrive at a parsonage where they intend to beg for food. The cook, who recently received a letter from home in Holland, tells Mother Courage he has inherited a small inn and would like her to move in with him and help him run it. Excitedly, Mother Courage tells Kattrin to start packing for their new life. The cook snaps that Kattrin must stay behind. The inn is too small to sustain three people, and he thinks Kattrin's presence will depress visitors. Mother Courage argues Kattrin can't manage the cart on her own. The cook still refuses to take Kattrin along, and Mother Courage resolves "I'm not leaving her here."

They sing a song outside the parsonage about great men—Solomon, Julius Caesar, Socrates, and Saint Martin—whose virtues did nothing to change their fate. The cook and Mother Courage are invited into the parsonage for soup. Alone, Kattrin packs her bags and prepares to leave, having heard the cook's decision. Mother Courage returns and chastises Kattrin for her foolishness, vowing never to leave her—or the cart. They throw the cook's belongings out of the cart and carry on without him.

Analysis

This scene provides the only moment where the audience sees Mother Courage as self-sacrificing. She chooses Kattrin over a quiet life with the cook at the inn, although it's unclear whether Kattrin's gesture forces her to make the choice. And it's unclear whether Mother Courage really would want to leave her cart in favor of a more honest living. Yet she returns several times to the sticking point of bringing Kattrin, suggesting she is seriously considering the cook's offer. Throughout the play it has been suggested through the symbol of the pipe Mother Courage and the cook have been having a romantic relationship. If Mother Courage were to take the cook up on his offer, she would be willing to trade her cart business for some sort of romance, whereas she wouldn't consider making this trade for any of her children. This casts Mother Courage in an even more selfish light, even though she does ultimately choose to remain with Kattrin. However, Mother Courage makes the decision to stay after Kattrin puts some of her mother's belongings out of the cart. Given the volatility of this action—and the potential financial loss—Mother Courage's decision may appear again more selfish and less emotional.

The key song Mother Courage and the cook sing while begging for food again warns of the virtues that lead to one's downfall: wisdom, courage, and honesty. Although the song mentions Solomon, Caesar, and Socrates, these historical characters are merely stand-ins for those, including Mother Courage's children, who lose their lives in the war for someone else's gain. The virtues mentioned in the song mirror and reinforce those Mother Courage foretells, back in Scene 1, that will lead to her children's deaths.

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