Mother Courage and Her Children

by Bertolt Brecht

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In Mother Courage and Her Children, is Mother Courage truly courageous?

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Mother Courage, in the play Mother Courage and Her Children is, in some ways, extremely courageous, but she is not necessarily seen as such. She details the events that led to her receiving the moniker "Mother Courage," and she relays that she was terrified of going broke, and so she transported nearly expired bread through a war zone in order to sell the rest of it to earn enough money to stay above water.

She shows in this instance that she is, in fact, very courageous, but it is more of a necessary courage than the valiant, selfless courage of a tragic hero or something similar. She is willing to do what is necessary, regardless of how afraid she is or what personal peril she may be in, but she is not willing to unnecessarily risk life or limb. Her courage and her strength are derived from providing for herself and her family, not altruistic intent.

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This is an excellent question to consider. Mother Courage, as she tells the audience in Scene 1, was given her name after an event in Riga when she showed tremendous courage. Note how she describes this action:

Courage is the name they gave me because I was scared of going broke, sergeant, so I drove me cart right through the bombardment of Riga with fifty loaves of bread abroad. They were going mouldy, it was high time, hadn't any choice really.

This points towards the tremendous courage that Mother Courage is capable of showing. However, note how the final sentence indicates that what defines her character is the need to make a profit. She is somebody who puts her business in front of everything else, and her courage stems from her mercantile avarice. The quote also indicates how she puts both her own life and the lives of others (most notably those of her children) second to making a profit. Her phrase that she "hadn't any choice really" but to drive through the bombardment at Riga because the loaves were going mouldy clearly indicates that she will do anything than risk a loss, and later actions, such as her haggling over her son's life, support this. Whilst she is courageous therefore, it is important to note that this is only when she has to be courageous in order to look after her own interests and makeĀ a profit. Mother Courage could therefore be considered something of a misnomer, as really what others ascribe to her as courage is something that could be considered to be nothing more than greed.

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