Mother Courage and Her Children

by Bertolt Brecht

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What elements in Mother Courage and Her Children exhibit alienation?

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Alienation is the name given to Brecht's approach to drama. He sought to reduce the audience's emotional response to the action by alienating them from it so that they could focus more on the political and social message behind the action rather than the action itself. To this end, in this play he gives a summary of the action at the beginning of each scene so that the audience can focus on the meaning behind that action. He also removes events that could provoke an emotional response from the stage, such as the execution of Swiss Cheese. Another key way in which he alienates his audience is through the frequent use of songs, which punctuate the action and undercut its reality whilst also highlighting the themes of the play. Consider the following example from "The Song of the Great Capitulation":

For that little bird whisper in your ear "That's all very well but wait a year And we will join the big brass band And with our trumpet in our hand We will march in lockstep with the rest. But one day, look! The battalions wheel! The whole thing swings from east to west! And falling on our knees, we squeal: The Lord God, He knows best! (But don't give me that!)

This song is sung by Mother Courage to a soldier who wants to make a complaint to his commanding officer. Mother Courage herself is wanting to do exactly the same thing. Her song is meant to deflate the young soldier's rage, and points out rather cynically the way that all humans eventually capitulate to the masses, as signalled by the shift in the song from "you" to "we." That Mother Courage herself ends up not pursuing her complaint indicates that she has learnt something from the song she has just sung. This song, and others in the play, are an excellent example of alienation because they clearly raise Brecht's anti-war message whilst also undercutting the reality of the action.


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