Mother Courage and Her Children | Study Guide

Bertolt Brecht

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Mother Courage | Symbols

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Cart

Mother Courage's cart symbolizes not only survival but also the perpetuation of war. As long as Mother Courage has her cart, she knows she'll have shelter and a way to support herself and her children. As a businesswoman, she has found the means of getting through the war without the help of a man. Over the course of the play, the cart is vandalized, breaks down, and shows its wear and tear, but it carries on providing for the family. Each character—Mother Courage, the three children, the chaplain, and the cook—survive the war by harnessing themselves to the cart and dragging it from one place to another.

The deeper symbolism of the cart, however, is in the heaviness and enslaving brutality and perpetuity of war. The cart crisscrosses Europe, as it follows regiments that desperately need the supplies Mother Courage sells. Without the war Mother Courage would have no means of survival. In this way war makes the cart necessary.

Yvette's Boots

Yvette's red high-heeled boots symbolize love, or more accurately, sexual attraction. Most obviously, Yvette, a prostitute, wears them when looking for new customers. In frustration over not being able to support herself, Yvette discards the boots, which Kattrin, coming of age and desperate for love, picks up. Kattrin playfully imitates Yvette's walk as she imagines what it might be like to be loved, if only physically, by a man. As the play progresses, the audience learns love is unlikely for Kattrin, who is aging, mute, and scarred both physically and emotionally.

After the drunken soldiers attack Kattrin in Scene 6, Mother Courage tries to give her the boots to cheer her up, but it's no use. Kattrin's knowledge of men has been abuse: first the soldier who most probably raped her when she was a child and now the soldiers who gash her face. She recognizes either she is too damaged for love or war has turned "good men" bad. Her rejection of the boots represents her rejection of love and fulfillment.

Drum

The drum symbolizes resistance to wartime violence. For most of the play, drumbeats indicate the presence of violence. The audience hears drums as the Catholic army approaches in Scene 3 and before Mother Courage's sons' executions. When the drunken soldiers attack Kattrin in Scene 6, one of the supplies she carries is the drum. It reappears in Scene 11 when the Catholic army threatens to "butcher" the entire village, including the children. Grabbing the drum, Kattrin climbs to the roof of the peasant family's home and beats the drum as loudly as she can to alert the sentry. The invading soldiers try unsuccessfully to silence Kattrin. As their frustration grows, Kattrin, a character who has been victimized by the violence of war, realizes for the first time she has power. She knows her life is in danger, but she laughs in the soldiers' faces as they set up their gun to shoot her, drumming ever louder, resisting their invasion. The soldiers' shots kill her, but even as she falls, she continues drumming, and the sentry hears her message. The impossibility of her speech other than by the primitive sounds and rhythms of the drum show the "dumb" and utter futility of the war, extending decade after decade and across the centuries to Bertolt Brecht's own time.

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