Study Guide

Mother Courage and Her Children Genre

By Bertolt Brecht


Modernism, Drama, War Drama, Family Drama

It's hard to be specific when it comes to the genre of Mother Courage. Sure, it's a play about war. That means it's a war drama. But it's pretty obvious that this is not your typical, Mel Gibson-style war drama. Mother Courage goes around singing songs, not emitting thunderous battle cries. There's not even a hero who comes along and saves the day. Everybody seems to lose.

Similarly, Mother Courage has a lot to do with family, but it's more like a family drama at war with itself. But before we say Brecht created his own genre with Mother Courage, it should be said that the play's lack of traditional plot resolution and its experimentation with dramatic form also places it firmly in the genre of modernism.

Yes, we know. One of those -ism's. But trust us, "modernism" isn't just a fancy way of saying Mother Courage is "modern." Modernism refers to a genre of art and literature, mostly in the twentieth century, which tries to replace traditions that have become old-fashioned and too idealized with new forms to suit the reality of modern societies. (Okay, so that's where the "modern" part comes in.) And a big part of that modern reality is war, on a much more massive scale than in previous centuries.

Where does Mother Courage fit in that picture? Well, if you check out our section on "Writing Style," you can read more about Brecht's plan to revolutionize drama with his so-called epic theater. That revolutionary spirit is what modernism is all about.