Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children Brecht's Intention

Mother Courage and Her Children, Brecht wrote, should teach the audience the lesson Courage herself fails to learn at the end of the play. In Brecht's own words:

What is a performance of Mother Courage and Her Children primarily intended to show?

That in wartime the big profits are not made by little people. That war, which is a continuation of business by other means, makes human virtues fatal even to their possessors. That no sacrifice is too great for the struggle against war.

Wartime involves a capitalist structure in this play. The lower classes, the peasants, the soldiers, and the traders, however, have no real way of gaining from it. If they enter willingly, like Courage, into its market, they risk its dangers. If they refuse to enter its system, they might starve--and brutal military men might take their goods whether or not they are participating.

Courage chooses to continue her involvement with the war. In Scene 7, she remains in its business dealings with gusto. Yet, if Courage were to opt out, would there be any way of her feeding her children? What Brecht presents as a lack of learning might, in the context of the Thirty Years' War, be a paradox. Nevertheless, Courage has become thoroughly a merchant, and she represents the capitalism of the war more than any common mother. She seems to have made profit her highest value--not the good things of life that money should be able to buy.

Criticism is divided about whether or not the play achieves its author's intentions, on the page or in performance. This disagreement often depends on the critical thinking that occurs in relation to the play--and in this respect, the author's broad intentions are achieved anyway.