Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children Summary and Analysis of Scene Two

The scene heading announces that two years have passed and that Mother Courage is about to meet her son Eilif again. The stage is split in two, with on one side the General's tent and, on the other, his kitchen.

In the kitchen we meet General's cook (der Koch), to whom Mother Courage is attempting to sell a capon that she swindled from the peasants in the nearby village. After considerable bargaining, the Cook grudgingly buys the bird at the price of a florin. Mother Courage (along with the audience) is then privy to the scene in the parallel tent, where Eilif, a hero, is invited to dine with the General. He successfully killed some peasants and stolen the oxen they attempted to hide from the General's army. The General, absolutely delighted with Eilif's "heroic deed," pours him expensive wine. This luxury stands in stark contrast to the rotten beef and scrawny capon the Cook is preparing across the stage. The Chaplain, mocked by the General and with little to say about the scene's events, stands sullenly in the background.

Mother Courage, astonished to hear her son's voice again, comments that the General--being obsessed with the heroism of his troops--must be a very poor General. That is, if good battle strategies were in place, there would be no need for heroism.

Eilif sings the song of "The Girl and the Soldier," a grim parable about a soldier who dared to walk across frozen waters, not heeding the warnings of his "girl": he falls in, and, at the end of the song, disappears underneath. Mother Courage joins in with Eilif from the other side of the stage, and the two parties are united for the end of the scene. Mother Courage slaps her son around the face. She does so not, she explains, because he took the oxen, but because he put himself in danger. The scene finishes in the middle of this reprimand, with the General and the Chaplain ominously laughing in the doorway.


"War as business idyll" was Brecht's summary of this scene in his summary of the dramaturgy. It is worth noting that, at this early stage of the play, the first military deed the play introduces us to is not really a military conquest but an illegal robbery carried out so that a hungry army could eat.

It is difficult to condemn Eilif for his deed insofar as he helped food go to hungry persons. As for the General, however, he is pompous, jingoistic, and living in luxury while his army eats "moldy bread." This figure of the war is at once ridiculous and morally corrupt. Brecht makes it very clear in his notes on the scene that the General should be played to demonstrate more than simply "rowdy drunkenness," and should display something of the absent obliviousness of the military aristocracy.

To fully understand its implications, one should read this scene in comparison with Scene Eight, where Eilif performs the same deed in peacetime and is executed for his trouble. What Brecht points out is not the criminality of war but the ways (as Scene One sets out) that war creates its own system of order. Eilif's heroic deed in wartime is a crime during peace.

Brecht's theatricality in this scene is also notable: the split stage is a crystal-clear attempt to force the audience to critically compare two realities by placing them literally side by side on the stage. Exactly what Brecht means his juxtaposition here to make us consider could be interpreted several ways: the Cook feeds the war with rotten meat in the kitchen, whereas Eilif "feeds" the war by stealing oxen on the other side of the stage. Mother Courage swindles peasants out of a capon on one side, whereas her son swindles peasants out of their oxen on the other. The basic juxtaposition is between the high-ranking levels of the army (the General is one of the highest-ranking military men to appear in the play) and the peasantry, while the innate capitalism of the war works upon every level of society.

Eilif's song, accompanied with a grotesquely carnivalesque "sword-dance," is a grisly irony .The repugnant celebration of his "peasant-slashing" and the joy taken in the horrific deeds of the war, juxtaposed with Mother Courage's plucking of the capon on the other side of the stage, reflect the surface message of the song itself. That is, the power of war is underestimated and seems to yield no clear winner.