Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children Summary and Analysis of Scene Twelve

Mother Courage sings a lullaby over Kattrin's dead body. It is time for her to get back on the road. The peasants advise her to follow the regiment immediately. Fetching a tarpaulin from her cart, she covers Kattrin's body. She pays the peasants to bury her. Mother Courage harnesses herself to the cart, hoping that she can pull it alone. The noise of a regiment passes by, and Courage follows along with it, pulling the cart. From offstage, the song that introduced Courage in Scene One is repeated to end the play.


The lullaby, according to Brecht, was to be sung "without any sentimentality or desire to provoke sentimentality." Its innate materialism must be made clear. The lullaby itself sets the extraordinary prosperity of a child in competition with that of other children. This child, Courage's child, must be the best. Even in mourning her last child, Courage is unable to separate herself from the cut-and-thrust of the competitive capitalist market. Courage's way of life, even her means of discourse, is her trade. To illustrate this point, which has become rather obvious by this scene, many productions have adopted Brecht's choice in the original production whereby Courage, in paying the peasants for Kattrin's burial, extracts three coins from her purse, but hands over only two, putting one back.

Weigel's portrayal of Courage in the original production made her seem eighty years old in this scene, according to Brecht. The war has wearied her, her business is depleted by it, and her children (though she still does not know about Eilif) have all been killed at its hands. Yet, she has learned nothing. She and her cart will continue. The final line she speaks is, "I've got to get back into business." She has not learned Brecht's lesson that "those who will make their cut from the war need a very big pair of scissors." In this play, war is a capitalist system that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.

This scene can be a stumbling block for actors who play Courage. If they get involved in the scene rather than maintaining their consistent "attitude" toward it (a basic premise of Brecht's "epic" acting style), the audience will leave the theater with the impression that this indefatigable woman has endured the worst and has still come through, that is, her aim of "coming through the war" has been achieved. But this is not at all what Brecht desired, and this interpretation would undermine the play's aim as a whole. Remember that peace is fleeting. If Mother Courage represents a system that is problematic by nature, it makes sense that she does not change her nature despite all of the problems she faces. One reconciles oneself to the war and to what one finds in the world; if one wants to change it, one needs a very big mechanism for change.

The final image of the play reiterates the words of the song that accompanies it and which began the play. As the Chaplain suggested, war does not die, but rests; what is not yet dead gets back onto its feet for the next round. The cart's rolling around the stage (often accomplished in modern productions using a revolve) represents the perpetuity of war. From the play's setting in the Thirty Years' War to its composition during the Second World War (and to our own time), we remain war-torn and in need of Brecht's timeless lessons.