Free «Motherhood and Maternal Instincts in “Mother Courage and Her Children” by Bertold Brecht» Essay Sample
  1. Introduction

The main purpose of this paper is to present a book review of “A Mother Courage and Her Children” by Bertold Brecht. The theme of motherhood, maternal instincts and responsibilities is analyzed in this research paper. It also discusses the necessity to choose right life priorities based on the deeds of female heroines of the play.

  1. Book Review

The events of the Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertold Brecht take place during the Thirty Years’ War. The play begins from describing Dalarna in spring of 1624. The main character is Mother Courage who works in a canteen. She has three children, a daughter, Kattrin and two sons, Eilif and Swiss Cheese, whom she usually carries in a cart. The war events do not seem to disturb the mother of the three as she seems to feel comfortable in wartime environment. To feed her children she tries to use wartime to make some profit.

The direct war participants a Recruiting Officer and a Sergeant reveal the problems related to recruiting soldiers for the Swedish campaign in Poland. The Recruiting officer seduced Eilif into the army. The young boy goes away with the man. Mother Courage is left with only two children.

Two years later, in 1626, Eilif and his mother meet in a tent of the Swedish Commander while Mother Courage is bargaining with the Cook to sale a capon. Eilif is being honored by the General for his brave deeds during the war: killing peasants and stealing their livestock. Mother Courage tells off her son for endangering his life.

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As the events unfold, the roles of the main characters change. In three years Swiss Cheeese becomes a regiment’s paymaster. Mother Courage and Kattrin live together with Swiss Cheese. One more character is being introduced in the play which is Yvette Pottier, a camp prostitute. While singing a song about fraternization, Yvette tries to tell Kattrin about the dreadfulness of the wartime and especially of any relationship with a warrior. Meanwhile Mother Courage receives a message from her son, Eilif. At the same time there is a sudden attack from the Catholic side.

The same day, Mother Courage’s other son, Swiss Cheese, is chased when he tries to return the paybox and is eventually captured. Later, the mother tries to bargain with the enemies to return her son. Despite her attempts, Swiss Cheese is executed. However, when body of Mother Courage’s son is brought for identification, she denies knowing the young man. The body of Swiss Cheese is thrown into a carrion pit.

Later, Mother Courage comes to the officer’s tent to file a complaint because of her business being destroyed. She meets with a soldier who wishes to complain too. However, they both conclude that everyone is eventually forced to surrender during wartime. 

In one of the scenes the Chaplain attempts to propose Mother Courage to marry him. However, the woman rejects his offer. Kattrin also comes back to her mother after some time of separation. Mother Courage notices changes in the figure of her daughter and expresses her negative views on war deeds.

In a while, the Cook comes back and reveals that the regiment did not pay him. This is followed by a quarrel between the Chaplain and Mother Courage. Yvette changes greatly as she is now a rich widow. Later, Eilif is executed because he killed some peasants during wartime. However, Mother Courage will never get to know about this. Also, there is the news that the war has come back.

Many years of war has caused great destructions, sufferings and famine. However, some people benefit from this for, for instance, the Cook inherits a tavern in Utrecht. He decides to offer Mother Courage to manage it. At the same time, the Cook is totally against Kattrin and her staying in his house. Because of this, the man and the woman get separated. Two poor women Mother Courage and Kattrin are destined to pull their cart alone.

Halle, the Protestant town is surrounded by the Catholic soldiers. Mother Courage is as usually vending something in the town. Kattrin is awakened by the search carried out by the enemy. She wants to warn others about the dangers. The young woman takes a drum and gets onto the roof of one of the houses. With the help of the drum she attempts to wake the people in the town so that they get ready to fight the enemy. Kattrin managed to wake up citizens of Halle. However, she gets killed by the soldiers.

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The next day, Mother Courage feels very sad. She sits near her daughter’s body and begins to sing a lullaby. The peasants get paid and bury Mother Courage’s daughter. The woman continues to pull her cart, which seems to be very light.

  1. Maternity and Mother’s Love of Mother Courage and Kattrine

Maternity as well as role of a mother in general plays very important role in life of any person. It is mother who gives birth to children, nurtures them, and takes care of them all the time. The feelings of a mother towards her children have no other analogues in the world. Mother’s love is often stressed and portrayed with much detail in the literary works. At the same time, however, the real meaning of mother’s love is sometimes distorted. There are instances when some material values overweight the load of maternal love. Bertold Brecht shows this ubiquitous maternal instinct from some different aspect. The wartime exacerbates the relationship between people. Being in a constant fear of death and suffering people tend to shift the stress they make on different values in life. Two different women, Mother Courage and her daughter, Kattrin, are shown somewhat unnatural during the wartime. The effects of the war on women can be described as very negative.

The major idea of maternity is delivering one’s children. Taking into consideration the difference between three children of the main character, it becomes obvious that Mother Courage was rather active in her sexual relationships. Moreover, it was her initiative to start a relationship with a man. The character of Kattrin seems to contrasted to her mother. She is willing to have a normal family. However, she is kept aback by her disability, not right figure and absence of good relationship and understanding from her mother’s side. Therefore, the difference maternity is viewed by these two female personages is striking. Unfortunately, Kattrin feels really upset by her inability to ever become a mother and have her own children. However, she tries to compensate this disadvantage by loving every child she happens to meet on her life road. It seems that she is trying to substitute the lack of the maternity experience by a similar life experiences. Her mother is a striking opposite to her daughter in terms of maternal devotion and love. Kattrin has her own understanding of motherhood which is associated with peaceful time. Mother Courage does not want to ruin her daughter’s dream as she concludes, “I promised her she’d get a husband – when it’s peace” (Brecht 77). However, as the events unfold, maternal instincts of the young woman seem to be lost. Kattrin becomes too much caring and loving towards children.

Mother Courage’s maternal experience is very rich. While her children were growing up, she has learned all the nuances of motherhood. The woman has learned to be learned all the responsibilities a mother has to know. These two women are therefore different. Kattrin has more idealistic views on life, while Mother Courage is rather a realistic character with all her positive and negative sides as a personality. For this reason the mature woman knows the value of financial stability. She is aware of the fact that without money and material goods they will not survive especially in times of war. To support family one has to be financially stable.

However, in the pursuit of business goals she has lost adequate feeling of her role as a mother. Even though her primer goal was protecting and supporting family, with the time priorities of Mother Courage change and thus she is a destructor of her family to some extent (Smith 493). As a mother her duty was to do the opposite, but she failed to do her duty well. The very meaning of motherhood entails protection of one’s children. The wellbeing of the young family members is the first place priority in terms of motherhood. The audience can clearly see that Mother Courage has lost some maternity skills and the real feeling of mother’s obligation, because she wasn’t protecting her children any more. Besides, she perceived the deaths of her children with unexpected calmness which is unnatural for a mother.

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Both nurturing and protecting one’s child appears to be a natural maternal instinct which we call parental duty. Mother Courage seems to be caring and loving mother by her words, but not always by her deeds though. The audience becomes witness of Mother Courage’s failure to protect her children as she should have done being a parent. All three perished during the war, because mother’s protective instincts got week and did not defend the children from war menaces (Carney 101).

Naming the main character Mother Courage, Brecht was ironic about this person already. From the beginning of the play, we expect this female character to be very courageous in her striving to protect children in the times of war. However, when she explained the meaning of her name, it becomes clear that she was not as courageous as might have seemed at first. She states, “They call me Mother Courage ‘cause I was afraid I’d be ruined, so I drew through the bombardment of Riga like madwoman with fifty loaves of bread in my cart” (Brecht 25). Therefore, it becomes clear that her real value is not the courage she has to protect her children, but the strong will to keep up her business. Mother Courage cares more about her merchandising business than about her three children. In this way a woman seems to be degrading as a mother. Her maternal instincts seem to be dead and lost forever.

From the very beginning of the play, in the first scene the reader sees that Mother Courage is strongly against her son joining the army. The power of maternal instincts is obvious: the woman is sincerely against Eilif becoming a soldier. Her duty was to protect her son and so she did at the beginning of the story. Mother Courage even shows a knife to sound realistic about her unwillingness to give her son to the war. As a mother she makes threatening gestures to protect her child. However, as soon as a new chance for her enterprise appears, she forgets about her son and her maternal duty to protect him from any dangers.

Another aspect which proves degradation of maternity principles is Mother Courage’s naming her children as goods. When her commercial inclinations take over, she seems to be regretting it. At the same time, she never misses a chance to bargain something even when she is informed of her son’s death. When Swiss Cheese dies, she is not as concerned with her child’s death as she is with bargaining a less cost for his release. Such actions lead to great delay and as a result the death of her child.

Kattrin seems to be similar to her mother in her attitudes to maternal duties. At the same time, however, there is a great difference between these two characters which becomes obvious when Kattrin strives for maternal responsibility much more than her mother does. The young woman is very kind-hearted by nature which makes her role as a mother to seem obvious. The principles of motherhood seem to be present in this character. Her maternal instincts become apparent when she wants to protect the children of the town Halles by sacrificing her own life. As a woman she feels that it is children who have to be protected first, while Mother Courage’s distorted view of life values lead to all her children being perished in war. Despite the expectations the woman becomes the only survivor of all her family.

Degradation of maternal instincts in the time of war is not the major message Brecht wants his audience to get. The implications of this ideas deal with setting life priorities by people. Often, we value wrong things, when it is people we should values. Material values take over some human or ethical values in life. Presenting two different female characters of Kattrine and her mother, the playwright demonstrates different understanding of the maternal duty and the resulting consequences of those understandings. Having compared these two women, the reader has to make his own conclusion regarding rightfulness of his/her own life priorities. Making right accents on the things and people we are to values protects us from having unwanted consequences (Carney 110).

  1. Conclusion

Throughout his play, Brecht shows Mother Courage to be rather practical character with realistic outlooks. She is accepting the life and conditions of war as they are. So some extent, Mother Courage seems to be passive because she does no fight to protect herself and her family. A pragmatic woman who is concerned with her profits and trading is Mother Courage as the audiences sees her as the events of the play unfold.

Financial concerns of the main character overshadow her motherly instincts. Event in the last scenes of the play she does not seem to understand the heroic deed of her daughter, Kattrine. For some reason, the wartime has sharpened Mother Courage’s financial interests and instincts for material enrichment. The menaces of war such as the death of all the children did not change the woman. The only thing she cared about was her business of selling different goods from her cart. Even nowadays there are women like Mother Courage, whose main priorities become their career and material wellbeing while their children and family come second. Brecht makes his audience to analyze the events of the play and make their own conclusions regarding human values and life priorities. Everyone chooses the life path he/she is willing to follow distributing life priorities alongside this path.

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