It is January 1636. The emperor's troops are threatening the Protestant town of Halle, and the cart stands, much the worse for wear, alongside a peasant's house with a huge thatched roof. It is the middle of the night.
An ensign and three soldiers in heavy armor come out of the wood and drag out a peasant, his son, and his wife. Kattrin is dragged out of the cart. Mother Courage has again, we are told, gone into town to trade. The soldiers need to find a guide to take them into the town in order to besiege it. When they threaten the peasants' oxen, the son agrees and leads them off into the town.
The peasant and his wife conclude that there is nothing to be done to wake up the sleeping people in the town without risking their own lives. With Kattrin, they kneel to pray for God's mercy. Kattrin begins to groan as the peasant's wife, leading the prayer, mentions the "four children of my brother-in-law," who are asleep in their house in the town. When she notes that one child is "not yet two, and the eldest seven," Kattrin stands up, unseen. She takes a drum from the cart, climbs onto the roof, and begins to beat the drum to awaken the sleeping townspeople.
The peasants desperately try to get her to come down. Kattrin pulls the ladder up onto the roof. They threaten to throw stones at her, terrified that the soldiers will return and murder them. The soldiers return and attempt to get her down. They try to muffle the noise of the drum by chopping trees with an axe. They threaten her with the death of her mother and try to smash up the cart. But Kattrin keeps drumming. Eventually they fetch a harquebus and shoot Kattrin, who "slowly crumples," beats the drum a few more times, and then falls dead.
Yet, as Kattrin's body slumps, cannon fire and confused noises are heard from the town. She has succeeded in awaking the townsfolk, though she has given her own life in doing so.
This scene is one of the most dramatic in the play. It was criticized by many of Brecht's contemporaries for being more of the "Dramatic Theater" than of the "Epic Theater." It is indeed a danger of the scene that the dynamism and excitement of its events might prevent the audience from critically viewing it. Yet, Brecht's point is to illustrate the importance of acting versus not action. He noted that it was essential that the peasants' justification of their failure to act must be presented so as to make it obvious that prayer is the final point in a line of argument which justifies their "not acting." Kattrin, in contrast, is not praying but is taking matters into her own hands. Her action is praised while religion is demeaned in this period of wartime.
The scene heading contains the strangely figurative line, "The stone speaks." The "stone" must be Kattrin (influenced, perhaps, by Shakespeare's line "dumb breathing stones" in Richard III, or by the Biblical idea of the stones crying out for justice). Thus, her actions in this scene might be considered the most eloquent in the play. It is highly ironic that it is by making noise that the silent (dumb) Kattrin finally achieves this eloquence. She has been silent throughout the play, yet it is the sound she creates now that will save lives. Kattrin sacrifices herself to save a town of people. Whether or not she is successful, we are never told, but Brecht clearly intends the attempt to be seen as noble.
Nevertheless, criticism is divided on the issue of Kattrin's sainthood. Many commentators have suggested that she only takes action because of the mention of the children who will die in the siege. If Kattrin is obsessed with babies and childhood, does this make her deed less noble? That is, how aware is she of the magnitude of her deed-is she doing it for the whole town or just for the children? These questions make for interesting discussion when analyzing Kattrin's character. Even so, in the spectrum of main characters in this play, Kattrin's actions here make her character the most praiseworthy. She gives her own life for a noble cause.
Kattrin's death represents the emotional climax of the play. It is the death of Courage's final child and the culmination of the play's growing focus on Kattrin's character. At the same time, the high drama of the scene becomes almost comedic: the soldiers are presented as fatally stupid, and their attempts to drown out Kattrin's drumming by chopping wood are risible-they just add noise that will awaken the town. Symbolically, is Kattrin a tree that needs to be chopped down in this time of war?