Mother Courage and Her Children

by Bertolt Brecht

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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 647

Anna Fierling

Anna Fierling, called Mother Courage, a camp follower about forty years old who sells supplies from a canteen wagon to both sides in the Thirty Years’ War. She got the nickname after her mad drive through the bombardment of Riga, made in an attempt to sell her bread before it became too moldy. Mother Courage is an inveterate haggler and trader who profits from the war and dreads the coming of peace. Although she retains several endearing qualities, she is nevertheless the focus of the author’s criticism of war and those who would profit from it. Even as she loses each of her three children (fathered by three different men) to the war, Mother Courage is unable to extract herself from it. Her harsh view of life is summarized in “The Song of the Great Capitulation,” which states that the individual must abandon romantic dreams and swallow what life imposes on him or her, and “The Song of the Great Souls of this Earth,” which maintains that one’s greatest virtues are at once the cause of one’s downfall. The latter song (though sung by another character) reflects the destiny of Mother Courage’s children, whose demise is brought about by the prominent character traits—bravery, honesty, and compassion—featured in the song. Mother Courage believes that the presence of virtues is “a sure sign something’s wrong” but never comprehends the lesson of war and plies her trade until the end.

Eilif Noyocki

Eilif Noyocki, Mother Courage’s elder son, known for his intelligence and bravery. Over his mother’s objections, he joins the army, where he is first honored for heroism, then executed for a similar deed during a brief moment of peace.

Swiss Cheese Feyos

Swiss Cheese Feyos, Mother Courage’s younger son, unintelligent but distinguished by his great integrity. As an honest man, Swiss Cheese is entrusted with the regimental treasury, and his refusal to divulge its whereabouts to the enemy leads to his execution.

Kattrin Haupt

Kattrin Haupt, the only daughter of Mother Courage. She is mute, as the result of a soldier’s attack, and facially disfigured from a later assault. Her character is marked by tenderhearted compassion, which costs her her life. Kattrin is shot while drumming frantically on a roof to warn a city of an impending attack.

Yvette Pottier

Yvette Pottier (pah-tee-AY), an attractive young prostitute whom war has hardened to the perils of love. In “The Fraternization Song,” she tells of her fall from innocence at the age of sixteen with the cook of an enemy regiment, who soon deserted her. Mother Courage uses Yvette as an example to Kattrin of the dangers of sentiment. Yvette also serves as a mediator in the futile negotiations to save the life of Swiss Cheese and ultimately achieves a measure of prosperity by marrying an aged colonel.

The cook

The cook, Peter Lamb, the man who seduced the teenage Yvette. Like Mother Courage, he makes a career from war. When he inherits a small tavern in Holland, however, he is ready to enter civilian life and offers Mother Courage a share in the business, which she declines. It is the cook who sings “The Song of the Great Souls of This Earth.”

The military chaplain

The military chaplain, a cynical representation of organized religion’s role in war. While living comfortably in the commander’s service, the chaplain uses his office to prepare men for killing and dying, referring to the war as “a special one, a religious one” in which it is “a blessing” to die. Despite his cowardice in the face of the enemy, the chaplain is a...

(This entire section contains 647 words.)

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strong supporter of war and believes in its inevitability and benefits. For a few years, he travels with Mother Courage, still living off the war, and vies with the cook for the companionship of Mother Courage.

Mother Courage

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Mother Courage is the woman around whom the play is constructed. She is middle-aged and has three children by three different men: two sons named Eilif and Swiss Cheese and a daughter named Kattrin. Mother Courage runs a mobile canteen which sells food and goods. She is a cutthroat businesswoman and follows the war, and the commerce it provides, wherever it goes. Formerly known as Anna Fierling, Mother Courage got her name from an incident in Riga in which she drove her canteen through a bombardment to sell her bread and came out alive.

Throughout the play, Mother Courage continually demonstrates that the preservation of her business is the most important thing in her life. She tries to avoid having her sons recruited for the war, not because she fears for their safety but because their help is needed pushing the wagon. When she fails to do so and Swiss Cheese is captured and sentenced to death, she haggles over the price of his ransom until it is too late. Still, she has a soft spot for her daughter, Kattrin, who is simple-minded and cannot speak. Mother Courage refuses the Cook’s offer to run an inn with him because he will not allow Kattrin to accompany them. By the end of the play, all three children have died, and Mother Courage pulls the canteen alone.

Other Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 860

The Chaplain When the Chaplain is introduced, he works for the Swedish Army. He is attached to the same unit as the Cook and Eilif. In scene three, when the Catholics attack and imprison the unit, Mother Courage helps him hide his true identity. He travels with Mother Courage and Kattrin for several years as they follow the Catholics. He chops wood and helps out as he much as he can. When there is a temporary peace, he returns to his clerical life.

The Cook When the Cook is first introduced, he is in the employ of the Swedish Army, working for the Commander. Mother Courage sells him a chicken for an exorbitant price. He is a blond Dutchman who smokes a special pipe. He was a one-time boyfriend of Yvette, and she thinks he is a scoundrel. He is attracted to Mother Courage. When the Cook’s mother dies, he inherits an inn in Utrecht. He asks Mother Courage to come with him to run it, but she refuses because he will not let Kattrin come along.

Feyos See Swiss Cheese

Anna Fierling See Mother Courage

Kattrin Haupt Kattrin is Mother Courage’s only daughter. The product of a relationship that Mother Courage had with a German man, Kattrin is a mute, due to an incident that occurred when she was little: a soldier stuck something in her mouth. She does a great deal of work for her mother, washing dishes and cleaning up the canteen wagon. Mother Courage promises that she will get Kattrin a husband when there is peace.

Like her half-brother Swiss Cheese, Kattrin is sensitive and simple. She likes children and pretty things. For example, she covets Yvette’s red boots. When Kattrin hears that a family of peasants needs linen for bandages, she gives the Chaplain shirts behind her mother’s back. She also runs into a burning house to save a child despite her mother’s protests. Sometime later, Kattrin runs an errand into town for her mother and comes back with a gash across her forehead. It is implied that she has been assaulted and raped. At the end of the play, Kattrin sacrifices her own life to save her mother and the people in a town; she overhears about a surprise attack and bangs a drum from a rooftop to warn the townspeople. Soldiers shoot her to keep her quiet.

Eilif Noyocki Eilif is Mother Courage’s eldest son and the result of her union with an intelligent soldier. Protective of his mother, he is a hotheaded young man who is sure of his prowess with firearms and knives. He is recruited by Swedish officers at the beginning of the play to fight on the side of the Protestants. When Mother Courage sees him again several years later, he is regarded as a hero for a successful attack he has led. He stole a large number of cattle from a group of peasants. Several scenes and years later, a temporary peace has been achieved, and Eilif is arrested for stealing cattle. It is implied that he is executed for the crime, but the actual act is not shown.

Eilif’s story is a prime example of Brecht’s hatred of war. His rise and fall are used as an example to illustrate the playwright’s belief that war creates confused values and a skewed reality. When Eilif steals the herd of cattle during wartime, he is hailed as a hero. Yet when a peace comes, he is arrested and executed for that very act.

Peter Piper See The Cook

Yvette Pottier Yvette is a young woman who also follows the war and the soldiers for business reasons; she is a prostitute. She was led into this life when she became involved with the Cook as a young girl in Flanders. He abandoned her, and she ran after him. She becomes involved with a colonel and tries to help save Swiss Cheese from execution. Yvette eventually marries the colonel’s brother. He dies, but she is apparently left enough money to survive.

Madame Colonel Sarhemberg See Yvette Pottier

Swiss Cheese Swiss Cheese is Mother Courage’s younger boy. He is the son of a Swiss military engineer who was also a drunkard. Like his brother Eilif, Swiss Cheese is protective of his mother, but, unlike his ruthless brother, he is a more sensitive, honest person. His mother says that he is simple and good at pulling wagons. After Eilif is recruited into the army, Swiss Cheese works as a paymaster for the Swedish Second Regiment. During an attack by the Catholics, he tries to protect the cashbox by hiding it, first in the canteen and then in a mole hole by the river. He is caught by two Catholic officers. When the officers bring him by, Swiss Cheese pretends like he does not know Mother Courage, hoping to protect both himself and his family. He is later executed while his mother haggles over the price of his ransom. When his body is brought to her for identification, she claims to not know him. Swiss Cheese is buried in an anonymous mass grave.




Critical Essays