Study Guide

Mother Courage and Her Children Scene II

By Bertolt Brecht

Scene II

IN THE YEARS 1625 AND 1626 MOTHER COURAGE CROSSES POLAND IN THE TRAIN OF THE SWEDISH ARMIES. BEFORE THE FORTRESS OF WALLHOF SHE MEETS HER SON AGAIN. SUCCESSFUL SALE OF A CAPON AND HEYDAY OF HER DASHING SON.

  • MC has been following the Swedish army through Poland, cart, children and all. (Like this, only…more miserable.)
  • We see a general's tent, and beside it, the kitchen. A cannon goes off.
  • MC and the general's cook are arguing about the price of a capon (a rooster fattened up for eating). MC wants to sell it to him for sixty hellers.
  • The cook says he can get a dozen birds for cheaper just down the road.
  • MC says he should take hers, since the army is under siege and there's no food. Now the bird costs fifty.
  • The cook says that it's the Swedish army that's doing the siege, not the other way around. Sheesh, get your story straight, MC.
  • Well, the people in the town they're sieging have more than the army. MC claims the peasants outside the town have nothing left.
  • She can't fool the cook. He knows the peasants have a lot; they're just hiding it.
  • She's sure that the peasants are starving. Now the bird's forty.
  • The cook says he'll take it for thirty.
  • But it was a talented bird! It could count and march to military music.
  • The cook takes out a piece of beef and sticks his knife in it. He's going to roast it instead if she doesn't lower the price.
  • MC says the beef's old.
  • It's from last night, he replies. He starts to cut up the beef.
  • MC tells him to use a lot of pepper so the general doesn't taste the funk.
  • Just then, the general, chaplain, and Eilif enter the tent.
  • The general is congratulating Eilif on a "deed of heroism." He promises him a gold bracelet for what he did "for God." He insults the chaplain, calling him an "old bigot," and asks Eilif what he wants for dinner.
  • Eilif wants meat.
  • The general orders the cook to make meat.
  • The cook starts to complain about having to make food for so many people. MC shushes him, having seen Eilif in the tent with the general.
  • MC tells the cook about her son, how it's been two years since the Swedish army recruited him. She offers the capon to him again, this time for a florin (a gold coin, even more than before).
  • The general yells for his food.
  • The cook tries to offer fifty hellers, but MC tells him that, when it comes to her son, "no expense is too great for me."
  • The cook hands over the money and sets her to plucking the bird.
  • The general is busy boozing with Eilif, happy that there is still "true faith" in his army. He doesn't offer anything to the chaplain, because "all he does is preach," and has no idea what war is really like. He asks Eilif to tell the story of how he captured twenty of the peasants' oxen.
  • Eilif found the oxen the peasants had hidden in the forest, tricked the peasants into thinking he wanted to buy the oxen, and as they thought it over, killed them all and took the animals.
  • The general ask the chaplain for his opinion.
  • Well, the chaplain says, things are different today than in the Bible. Oh, really? When Jesus told his followers to "love thy neighbor," they weren't at war and there was enough food to go around, especially after Jesus miraculously turned five loaves of bread into five hundred. (See our section on "Allusions" for more on this.)
  • The general laughs and gives the chaplain a drink. Then he turns back to Eilif and compares his feat to Jesus's saying in the Bible "Whatsoever thou doest for the least of my brethren, thou doest for me." (See "Allusions.")
  • Eilif remembers how he took his sword and went at those peasants.
  • He really ought to meet the king, the general tells him.
  • Eilif has already seen him, from a distance. The king is his role model. Have it your way, Eilif.
  • The general appreciates men of courage, like Eilif, and he plans to treat him like his own son. Meanwhile, MC has been listening in. She doesn't care much for the general. She tells the cook that he must be "rotten" to need courageous men. Only a bad general needs men who possess "a load of special virtues." She thinks fearlessness, strength, cleverness, and loyalty are only necessary among the little guys when their leaders lack these qualities. In "decent countries," the populace can be full of cowards. Quite an interesting theory, but we'll roll with it.
  • The general guesses Eilif's father was a soldier.
  • Turns out he's right. MC warned him about being a soldier. Eilif even knows a song about it.
  • Eilif sings The Song of the Girl and the Soldier. The song is a conversation between a young girl and a group of soldiers, about the unfortunate fate of a certain special member of their troop. Eilif dances, too.
  • Halfway through the song, MC joins in.
  • Hearing MC singing in the kitchen, the general wonders what's going on.
  • Eilif goes to the kitchen and embraces his mother. He asks where the rest of his family is.
  • She tells him they're fine. Swiss Cheese has been made paymaster of the Second Finnish Regiment. (A paymaster carries around the regiment's cash in a moneybox.)
  • Eilif asks how she's feeling, etc.
  • He thinks it's funny that she happened to be in the kitchen just when the general was praising him.
  • MC isn't so amused, and she slaps him. The slap is for not surrendering to the peasants when they threatened to kill him.
  • The general and the chaplain stand in the doorway, laughing, because domestic abuse is always a hoot? These guys need to get in touch their moral compasses, if you ask us.