Mother Courage and Her Children

by Bertolt Brecht

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What choices does Mother Courage make and how do they impact her children?

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Mother Courage cares for her children, but at critical moments of the play, she makes decisions that undermine their safety. For example, even though she is adamant that her son Eilif not join army, she is distracted trying to make a sale and her son is taken away. Similarly, when her second son, Swiss Cheese, who has become a paymaster, is arrested by soldiers looking for his cash box, Mother Courage decides to ransom him using money the from the cash box. When she finds out that her son has thrown the cash box into the river, she tries to renegotiate the ransom, hoping for a lower price, but fails. Her son is executed.

Mother Courage is not a bad character, but one trying to make her way in impossible circumstances. Her commitment to business, her willingness to sell to both sides, and her desperation to make enough to keep her family together all contribute to the eventual death of her children.

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The play is set in the early 1600s during the Thirty Years' War between the Protestants and the Catholics. Mother Courage sells her wares to the soldiers from her wagon, with the help of her three children. She is not happy about the war, but she is a businesswoman first and foremost. The decisions she makes throughout the play seem self-serving, but in her mind she is making a living and protecting her children. Unfortunately, her attempts to be a clever negotiator ultimately backfire, and her choices affect her children.

Even though she is adamant about her son not joining the war, Eilif is recruited. As this happens, Mother Courage is distracted by another soldier, who gets her to barter over a belt. Her other son, Swiss Cheese, is captured by the Catholics and confesses to helping the Protestants. Mother Courage attempts to negotiate his release but will not give up her wagon. This choice leads to the death of Swiss Cheese. Eilif returns and still believes he is on the battlefield. He steals cattle, is caught, and is sentenced to death. Mother Courage decides to leave her daughter, Kattrin, with a peasant family, even after assuring Kattrin they need to stay together. She enters a Protestant town to gather supplies. Meanwhile, the Catholics have taken the peasant boy, to serve as a guide, from the family Kattrin is with. The Catholics are going to ambush the Protestant town. Kattrin beats a drum to try and warn the town and is shot by the Catholic soldiers.

Mother Courage is a complicated character. While we might not agree with her choices or parenting methods, in the end we share a level of heartache and respect for her.

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In Bertolt Brecht's play Mother Courage and Her Children, Mother Courage attempts to survive a war and protect her children, but her decisions go wrong. First she attempts to bargain for the life of her son Swiss Cheese, who is accused by soldiers of having hidden their play box. When he claims to have thrown the box in the river, Mother Courage backtracks on the price of his release, and he is killed by the soldiers. Later on she is offered a proposal of marriage by a chaplain who would have taken her in with her surviving children, but she refuses, and shortly after this her son Eilif is executed for killing a peasant while stealing food. At the end of the play, Mother Courage leaves her daughter, Kattrin, with a peasant family while she goes off trading. Kattrin is shot while trying to warn the townsfolk of an attack by the invading army.

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