Mothering Without A Compass: White Mothers Love, Black Sons Courage

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They may at one time of life been genuinely good people, but they are put in a stark, war-torn world where doing what is ethical is almost impossible. We see later in this story both Swiss Cheese and Kattrin try to stand up for what they think is right, and refuse to accept the moral relativism of their mother, with nasty results.

Rather than look at nobles who rode gallantly off to war, as his predecessors did, here we see an ensemble cast affected by the choices of their highborn counterparts. The world is stacked against the eponymous gang, forcing them to choose between a noble death, or sacrificing chunks of their humanity in order to survive, and making themselves seem more wretched to those who exploit and slaughter them. The setting of the play, too, contributes to this interpretation.

Obviously, the war being fought, and the fact that it is a holy war that deals in absolute goods and evils, are attributes meant to lampoon the rhetoric and foundation of warfare. The events of the plot take place over the course of twelve years, and all throughout Europe.

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Yet in all this time, conditions remain abhorrent. Conditions are still tenuous and terrible, despite twelve years of fighting a war which lasted for thirty. The thirty years war was waged for supposedly good intentions, if the generals and chaplains we encounter are to be believed. Yet the majority of characters we happen across in this time remain in utter squalor.

When armies of men thousands strong march across the globe and still nothing changes, one must ask oneself why. This is what Brecht directs his attention to with the play. It might decrease the number of severed heads, but when war ends, life is still terrible all over the world, and nothing changes. The barren 17th century Europe, and perhaps the world of today, is unrelenting and cruel to people of all walks of life, sticking them in a rat race they can never hope to win.

Ironically, despite being flagrantly anti-war, Mother Courage serves as a call to arms. She ends the play searching for something that is not there, alone, cold, and bitter. Her sons accept the cruel reigns of war, dying either for duty or for their own personal gain. Kattrin has the will to be brave and stand up for peace in a world where courage is not rewarded unless it is born of cowardice, and gets blown to pieces with an artillery weapon.

Brecht has created a world where we are shown two long, twisted paths that lead to the same place, and asks us to question why we sit idle and let it happen. Why do we allow people to get so poor and hungry, that their only option in life is to die for a flag or a god? Why do we let them starve, to the point where an ox means more to them then their lives?

Why do we force them to steal and then punish them for it? The play never really gives us an answer; it merely builds a brief window into a world of bleak choices and unhappy endings. One finishes the play unable to look back at our society, still so entrenched in social classes, and see something noble.

Just something with the blood of three children on its hands. Through its use of colloquial and perceptive dialogue, textured characters from working class backgrounds, and panoramic setting, Brecht has created a distinctly modern play which takes a close look at capitalism in the twentieth century, and the gruesome toll it claims in human souls. Brecht, Bertolt. Mother Courage and Her Children.

John Willett. New York: Penguin Pub. Enormous amounts of civilians in besieged cities such as Magdeburg lost their lives, and those who survived lost everything else. As Brecht tries to show through his play Mother Courage and Her Children, soldiers are not the only people whose actions based on economic attitudes and self interest can harm others. Brecht wants the audience to think so they can understand and apply the message he wants the play to convey.

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Mother Courage uses her economic attitudes and self interest to legitimate her incredibly selfish response to the effects of the war that surround her. Brecht denaturalizes her actions by satirizing her selfishness through exaggeration and juxtaposing her losses with those of other characters. He makes her responses seem absurd so the audience sees her self interested actions as unnatural, and so they are unable to sympathize with her.

She and the soldiers both see the siege as something to profit from, the soldiers from looting and Courage from following the combat and selling wares to those who need and can afford them.


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While Brecht is not necessarily directly comparing her to the soldiers, he is trying to get his audience to see her in a similar way, as selfish and uncaring about the misfortune of others. After the Catholic army which Courage has been following is victorious in the siege of Magdeburg, she comes across a ruined home and a dying family of farmers. Seeing this, The Chaplain she has been traveling with asks her to spare linen to help bandage the family.

Courage shows her economic attitude to be one of extreme self interest. She will give absolutely nothing away if she has nothing to gain from doing so. Despite this, she complains more bitterly about what she has lost than the farmers do.

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The only complaint by either of the them is made when the man states the fact that his arm has been ripped open. While the farmers bleed to death in front of their ruined home, Courage withholds the shirts needed to make bandages because it would not be good for business and she would lose a half guilder for each shirt. Brecht has Mother Courage respond to the misfortunes of the defeated civilian family in such an extreme way to denaturalize the scene.

The goal of denaturalization in epic theater is to make a scene appear unrealistic, and therefore unrelatable, so the audience thinks rather than feels. Brecht also does this to things that he sees as unnatural and that he wants the audience to see as unnatural. If members of the audience sympathize with something or see something as normal, he wants them to examine why they feel that way and why they have allowed it to become normal.

He portrays Courage as unnaturally and unbelievably selfish so the audience is unable to feel sympathy for her. Its odd logic and inappropriate placement should be surprising to the audience. The audience should immediately see something wrong with this line and realize that had the peasants been Catholics, it would not have somehow stopped them from being injured or their house from being destroyed by the artillery.

They were not given an opportunity to convert and then attacked because they refused. The audience may be thinking this, and their concerns are addressed when it is revealed that the farmers actually are Catholics, like the army that attacked them. It obviously did not help the farmers in this situation. Illogical and inappropriately placed jokes like these create an effect of denaturalization in the same way as the oddly structured and performed songs in other scenes.

The scene ends and the characters move on while all we know about the family is that their home is destroyed and The Chaplain has not yet been able to stop their bleeding. The audience will never know what happened to the person still on the inside and whether the farmers and their baby live or die. This breaks the flow of the play and would upset the audience, who expects to know what happens to the characters.

Also, by removing the farmers before they can die or be saved, Brecht gives the audience less emotions to sympathize with.

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Brecht gives this heavily denaturalized representation of the siege of Magdeburg to make sure that his intended message is not lost on the audience because of their feelings. The message Brecht wants the audience to think about in this scene is that there are destructive consequences that come from acting as an individual through self interest and based on economic attitudes. Working as a collective to respond to the war is the best way to help.

It describes the devastatingly high number of civilian deaths and describes the enormous piles of bodies left after the siege and pillage of the city. It tells of the families left in ruins after greedy soldiers took everything they had and of the women the soldiers violated. Von Guericke may not have intended to give this specific message, but his diary entry shows that the self interest of soldiers has horrible effects on the lives of civilians.

However, the focus of his representation is on the harm that the self interest of other civilians and their refusal to work collectively can do, rather than the harm done by soldiers. His representation shows the harm done by responses to the war along with the harm done by the war itself. The audience is left to speculate about whether or not this could have killed the family.

Brecht also wants his audience to realize that had Courage worked together with The Chaplain and her daughter Kattrin in a collective effort to assist the farmers, they might have been saved, or at very least been given what medical attention they could get. These messages are also evident in other scenes of the play. As in scene five, this is also an example of Brecht using denaturalization to make Courage seem unnaturally selfish. Brecht wants the audience of this play to learn that during war, acting through self interest and trying to profit from the war will cause harm to civilians, even in unintended ways, while working together with others is the best way to help.

He uses his close up representation of the siege of Magdeburg in scene five to convey this view by focusing on the actions of Mother Courage, an ordinary individual civilian, rather than the actions of soldiers in a general manner as described by von Guericke in his diary. This denaturalized representation makes the audience unable to completely connect with the scene and increase their capacity to think, and later act on what they think about.

Mute characters play a significant role in plays. They are the characters most people would ignore because they do not say anything; however, mute characters may be the characters who say the most in a play. Within Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht, the mute character Kattrin shows us that the bravest and during characters do not have to be the ones who talk the most. Kattrin may be mute, but she uses her actions to communicate with others. Throughout the play, Kattrin is rarely noticed by other characters, so when she does actions, no one in the play knows what she is doing or what she is trying to tell them which is a challenge for her because she knows what she is saying but is unable to get it through to others.

Situations throughout the play occur and some involve Kattrin as the focal point for these situations. When Kattrin is casually communicating to her family, they can understand her and communicate back; however, when a bad situation is about to happen, Kattrin notices it and tries to communicate to her family, they have no clue on what she is trying to say.

One example would be when Swiss Cheese was about to hide the Cash Box. As Swiss Cheese is planning to hide the Cash Box in the river, two soldiers stand behind him and he is unaware that these two soldiers are there and that they are listening to what he plans to do with the Cash Box. If Kattrin could speak, her brother may have lived; however, Brecht creating her as a mute character brings more entertainment to the play in both a humorous and suspenseful way. Another example of Kattrin aware of a situation that others are oblivious to would be when Eilif was being recruited by the soldiers.

Eilif wants to join the war, but Mother Courage forbids it, so the soldiers attempt to distract Mother Courage by pretending to be interested in buying a belt, when really the other soldier pulled Eilif to the side to have a drink with him.