Mother Courage | Study Guide

Bertolt Brecht

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Mother Courage | Scene 8 | Summary

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Summary

A young man and his elderly mother awaken Mother Courage hoping to sell her their bed sheets. In the distance bells ring signaling peace and the death of the Swedish king. Mother Courage seems disappointed the war should end immediately after she buys fresh supplies but is relieved Eilif and Kattrin will no longer be in danger. Happily, the chaplain, who has been traveling with Mother Courage, puts his Lutheran robes back on.

The cook arrives and immediately starts arguing with the chaplain over his advice for Mother Courage's business, and the men continue squabbling about the other's involvement in her life. The chaplain eventually turns his frustration on Mother Courage, chastising her for criticizing peace when it improves the lives of so many. "You don't want peace but war," he scolds, "because you profit from it." Instead of going to church and observing the end of the war, Mother Courage gets ready to sell what she can before prices hit rock bottom. Yvette, now quite aged, arrives and immediately recognizes the cook as "Puffing Piet," the man who broke her heart.

Yvette married her wealthy suitor's elder brother, who died and left her a fortune. She now warns Mother Courage to stay away from the womanizing cook. After she and Mother Courage leave to try to sell the goods remaining in the cart, two soldiers arrive with Eilif in chains. They have brought him to say goodbye to his mother before his execution for murder. He did just as he had done before—killed to steal livestock—but in peacetime his actions are considered criminal rather than heroic. The chaplain leaves with Eilif, who would rather have a drink than see his sister, and makes the cook promise not to tell Mother Courage the truth. Soon after Eilif is led away, Mother Courage sprints back to the cart with good news: the war is back on. She and the cook hastily pack up and prepare to travel to the next battleground.

Analysis

Once again Mother Courage misses the opportunity to see her son before his death because she is busy with business. Even before Eilif dies, Mother Courage expresses her displeasure over the fact that the war has ended. As usual, Mother Courage is concerned with her lost profits. To emphasize this point, Brecht ensures Mother Courage is busying herself with business matters when Eilif dies, just as she was when Swiss Cheese was shot. The chaplain calls Mother Courage a "hyena of the battlefield," suggesting she benefits from the suffering of others. Like a hyena who feasts off the carcass of a dead animal, Mother Courage profits from the war machine that kills her sons. When she first hears of peace, Mother Courage decides to visit the nearest church to pay respects to Swiss Cheese, but later decides "church is off. I'm going to market instead." As is her way, she is completely uninterested in spiritual matters.

Yvette emerges as another person who has benefited greatly from the war, far more indeed than Mother Courage. Yvette's marriage and inheritance are enough to change her social standing—she is now a countess. However, like everyone else who benefits, Yvette had to "feed" the war, or trade something for her financial success. In her case she traded both her beauty and her real love. Yvette appears in this scene "older and fatter, and [more] heavily powdered" than when she was a prostitute. Seeing the cook saddens her, and she leaves without celebrating peace with her old friend since that type of potentially sentimental "reunion" is very far from what the playwright is interested in.

Peacetime also gives further insight in the chaplain's hypocrisy. As soon as the church bells toll, he changes back into his Lutheran robes, ready to return as a spiritual leader although he has spent most of this war, arguably when people needed the most spiritual guidance, in hiding. The cook rightly questions who he thinks he is "to inspire now to earn his pay honorably and lay down his life." In other words, how can the chaplain ask others to risk their lives for the church when he hid from his responsibility? Later in the scene, the cook seethes, "Pity the war made such a godless shit of you."

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