What is meant by alienation in Mother Courage and Her Children?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Alienation is a term used by Brecht to describe the effect he tried to achieve through his drama. Brecht deliberately sought to remove the audience from the action through alienation effects. Brecht wanted to reduce the audience's emotional involvement in the play and with its characters so that they can focus more on the social message of the work and the various themes and meanings rather than becoming bogged down with the fate of the various characters. Interestingly, this is achieved in this play through a variety of different methods. Firstly, each scene is preceded by a summary of events so that the audience knows what is going to happen and they can focus on the meaning of the action rather than being surprised by the action itself. Secondly, consider the way in which parts of the play which would create an emotional response in the audience are taken off stage rather than being acted on statge. This is most clearly shown in the execution of Swiss Cheese, which occurs offstage. Lastly, the dialogue of Mother Courage is very rarely emotional in nature and is more intellectual, allowing the audience to focus clearly on the anti-war message of the play. Note the following example:

I won't let you spoil my war for me. Destroys the weak, does it? Well, what does peace do for'em, huh? War feeds its people better.

This dialogue comes straight after the scene where Courage curses the war for disfiguring her daughter. The reversal in fortunes shows that she has not learnt the inherent tragedy and destruction in war and only sees it in terms of what she can gain. The use of such dialogue directs the audience towards Brecht's real message, which is of course the way in which, through war, there are no "winners," no matter what Mother Courage thinks.


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