What is the social and historical context of Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Brecht is drawing much in way of historical parallel with the outbreak of World War II.  While the play is set in the Thirty Years' War, the overarching themes of the destructive nature of war and its commercial aspect are significant elements in the drama.  The massive rearmament of Germany at the outset of the Second World War helped to bring to light that war is, to quote Howard Zinn, "the health of the state."  Germany's rise to economic and political power is done through militarism and that those in the position of such power reap immediate benefits through war.  Brecht was able to see this first hand and this becomes part of his writing:

Men of all ages were conscripted to fight in the war. In 1930s Germany, every man between the ages of nineteen and forty-five were deemed fit for military service, amounting to more than eight million people in the army alone.

These individuals were not the power brokers nor were they in any position of wealth or privilege.  While war was waged by those who were in such elevated states, the war was fought by others, and these people, individuals who end up being nameless, are the center-points of Brecht's work, giving voice to the voiceless.  In this light, the play makes a very strong statement about war, the social and historical context that envelops it and that it depicts.

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