Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children Summary and Analysis of Scene Five

Two years later, Mother Courage's cart has stopped in a badly shot-up village--during Tilly's victory at Leipzig (1631). Courage refuses to give a soldier a drink because he cannot pay. The soldier has a fur coat slung over his shoulder, which he has looted from the village.

The Chaplain stumbles on, asking urgently for bandages and linen. He carries in the mother of a peasant's family. They have refused to abandon their farm even during heavy gunfire. Courage tells him she has no bandages and refuses to help.

When the Chaplain asks again and is greeted with blind refusals from Courage, Kattrin attempts to threaten her mother with a plank of wood. Eventually, by lifting her off the steps of the cart, the Chaplain forcefully takes four of Courage's officer's shirts, tearing them into strips to use as bandages.

From the house comes "the pained cry of a child." Kattrin rushes into the fray to rescue a baby, which she brings back into the scene, rocking it in her arms. Courage laments the loss of her expensive shirts and then pounces on the soldier (from the start of the scene) for attempting to steal schnapps. She snatches the looted fur coat from his shoulders.


Tilly's sacking of Magdeburg was one of the bloodiest atrocities of the Thirty Years' War. It was unparalleled in the number of civilian casualties. The grimly ironic final sentence of the scene heading tells us that the sacking "costs Mother Courage four officers' shirts." As in Scene Two, the startling comparison forces the audience to critically examine the action. Can the cost to Courage really ever be equated with the lives lost? The paradoxical answer is that, for Courage, everything has a price and can be compared. Besides, Courage's trade--and these shirts in particular--represent her own survival. To make allowances, as she rightly points out, might mean to starve.

This is one of the most revised scenes in the play. Brecht originally had had Courage tear up some of the shirts into bandages herself, but after the unsatisfactory premiere he rewrote the scene to make Courage seem still less sympathetic. In the scene as we have it now, Courage makes no concessions to necessity as far as her officers' shirts are concerned, yielding a far less compassionate portrayal than was originally intended.

This is also a key scene for Kattrin and her relationship with her mother. Her spontaneous (and deeply felt) attempted assault ties into the way she recklessly risks her own life to save the baby later. Whereas Courage always can put her business sense above her heart, her daughter, it appears, never can. In the original production, at the end of this scene, Courage held high her fur coat on one side of the stage, while Kattrin held high her baby on the other. The contrast between the two priorities (and the two acquisitions) is illuminating and paves the way for Kattrin's death (and Courage's life) at the end of the play. Note whose values win in the end--which might be more a statement of tragedy than of poetic justice.