Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children Summary and Analysis of Scene Eight

Waking her from her sleep in the cart, two nameless peasants, an old woman and her son, attempt to sell Mother Courage their father's bedding. They need to get the money because they are so hungry.

Bells begin to ring and voices shout that the Swedish king has been killed--and as a result, peace has broken out. Some Lutherans have ridden into town and brought the news with them. The old woman faints in shock at the news, and her son picks her up, heading for home with the tragicomic line, "Dad'll get his bed back."

The Cook appears, "somewhat bedraggled," having not been paid by the army and therefore wandering unemployed and hungry in search of food. As Scene Two suggested, he has been blamed for the lack of food that has spread across the country. Thus, in line with his name, he has become a sacrificial lamb. His high spirits have been somewhat dampened by the last eight years of war. The Chaplain, on hearing of the peace, changes back into his clerical robes.

The Cook and Courage discuss her decision to buy more wares. Now that peace has broken out, it looks like she will be ruined. The Cook blames the Chaplain for making a bad decision. When the Chaplain returns, now in his robes, an argument ensues during which the Chaplain loses his temper with Courage, blaspheming against peace and calling her a "hyena of the battlefield." He tells her, "you only want war, not peace, because you make a profit from it: in which case you should never forget that he who sups with the devil needs a long spoon."

Courage then tells him that they must go their separate ways. The Cook advises her to get to market to sell her wares, and she immediately gets ready to leave.

Yvette appears, "much older and fatter and heavily powdered," followed by a servant. She married the brother of the Colonel she was with in Scene Three, and she inherited a fortune on his death. She recognizes the Cook as "Peter the Puff" and now stresses her status against him, treating him as a commoner in light of her new noble status. Courage goes off to market with Yvette.

The Chaplain and the Cook have a short conversation. Eilif is brought on, chalk-white and escorted by soldiers with pikes. He is here to see his mother, and he has been arrested for breaking into a peasants' farm. It is exactly the deed he committed in wartime, but it has become a crime when committed during peacetime. Eilif is taken away to be shot, the Chaplain following at his heels.

Courage returns with the news that peacetime is over after all. The Lutherans are involved in a shooting match with the townspeople. As Kattrin and the Cook harness themselves up, Courage sings another business song.


Peace is short-lived. The Chaplain seems to be correct to say that peace is just a hiatus between wars. By the time the news of peace travels to the town, it is about time for the peace to be over.

Courage has quite literally bought into the capitalist system of war. She still needs the war to be able to recoup her investment. She keeps to this system despite the fact that, under her nose in the same scene, the war also kills her son.

Eilif's death establishes in the audience's mind that, true to the inevitability of an Aristotelian tragedy, all of Courage's children are to be lost to the war. Kattrin's death now seems only a matter of when: it seems clear now that it will happen. What remains to be seen is whether or not Courage will realize tragically that her own involvement in the war as a business empire is something conducive to the desolation of her family. But the shattering anticlimax of the ending is that she never does. Brecht gives the audience a chance to see and consider this tragic situation ourselves, not distracted by either silent or loud screams.

It is no accident that, even at the very end of the play, Eilif's death remains unknown to Mother Courage. She is trading at the market when it happens. As with Swiss Cheese's death in Scene Three, and like Kattrin's coming death in Scene Eleven, her business distracts her from her family.

The Chaplain's final scene has him launch a rather hypocritical attack on Courage, a failed attempt to take the moral high ground on the premise that she hopes for war rather than peace. His exit with Eilif is unusually anticlimactic. For one of the play's central characters, his story is brought to no real resolution, only an abrupt ending. He has made little difference in the play itself, but he has been exposed repeatedly as a self-seeking hypocrite and turncoat rather than a morally driven man of the cloth. Yet, before he exits, the short conversation between him and the Cook about cabbage and carrots foreshadows Beckett's Waiting for Godot in its representation of the poignant misery that war brings to the human heart. Here is another facet of Brecht's focus on heartbreakingly small details rather than the bigger picture.

The other key entrance in this scene is that of Yvette, who is the only person in the play who profits from the war. She has paid for it with her beauty, needing to wait for an inheritance to find her profit. She is fatter and much older, implying that she has aged past her years. "She has sold herself," Brecht writes in the model, "but for a good price." And, of course, what she really wanted, the love of the Cook or "Peter the Puff," is now farther away than ever. She expresses a genuine bitterness in the way she chastizes him as a commoner. What might have been supposed a recognition or anagnorisis is in fact a non-event: the young, attractive Yvette whom Peter once loved has been traded in the market of the war.