Study Guide

Mother Courage and Her Children What's Up With the Ending?

By Bertolt Brecht

What's Up With the Ending?

When the Catholics plan a secret attack on a Protestant village, Kattrin beats a drum to alert the townspeople, saving her mother and countless other people from murder. The Catholic soldiers shoot and kill her. After paying for her burial, Mother Courage hitches herself to her wagon and is on her way again, following another regiment off to war. We hear her singing her first song from Scene I as she exits the stage:

The new year's come. The watchmen shout.
The thaw sets in. The dead remain.
Wherever life has not dies out
It staggers to its feet again.
(XII, 58-61)

The lyrics describe the coming of spring after winter, when everything that isn't dead "staggers to its feet again." Just as spring returns every year, the song itself is repeated at the end of the play, suggesting a new start for Mother Courage. And yet, somehow this isn't what we expect.

What we expect is to share in her tragedy, to see and feel her pain in a tragic final scene. Instead, she gets up and walks off, saying, "Got to get back in business again" (XII, 45). What's up with that?

Remember that Brecht is not out to make a hero of Mother Courage. He doesn't want to make it easy for us to identify with her, or pity her, or even say that we understand her. This is part of what makes his play "strange," forcing us to deal with the reality of warfare. (See our section on "Writing Style" for more.)

What we see is the senselessness of Mother Courage's desire to capitalize on war. It's clear Courage loves her children and wants to keep them out of harm's way. But it's like the sergeant says, at the end of Scene I:

Like the war to nourish you?
Have to feed it something too.
(I, 344-345)

Mother Courage's love for her family is clearly in contradiction with her allegiance to war and profit.