Study Guide

Mother Courage and Her Children Scene III

By Bertolt Brecht

Scene III

THREE YEARS LATER MOTHER COURAGE IS TAKEN PRISONER ALONG WITH ELEMENTS OF A FINNISH REGIMENT. SHE MANAGES TO SAVE HER DAUGHTER, LIKEWISE HER COVERED CART, BUT HER HONEST SON IS KILLED.

  • The scene opens on a military camp in the afternoon. MC's cart is packed full of stuff now—she seems to be doing good business—and her laundry is hanging from a line strung between her wagon and a cannon.
  • MC is bargaining with an armorer (someone in charge of weaponry) over a bag of ammunition. Swiss Cheese now has a paymaster's uniform on.
  • Yvette is also on stage. She's drinking some brandy and has taken off her red high-heeled boots. She's busy sewing a flashy hat for herself.
  • The armorer is trying to sell the ammunition to make enough money to buy more booze for the colonel.
  • MC is afraid of getting in trouble for buying up the troop's supplies.
  • The armorer says she could easily resell the ammunition to another armorer for more. He won't do it because he doesn't trust the guy—he's his friend.
  • MC buys the ammunition but pays the armorer less than he wants.
  • She tosses Swiss Cheese a pair of new woolen socks, telling him not to forget that the army made him paymaster because he's honest, not brave like his brother, and because he's stupid. That's why they trust him not to run off with the money. Gee, thanks mom.
  • Swiss Cheese and the armorer exit together.
  • Yvette waves as Armorer leaves, even though he doesn't.
  • MC doesn't like seeing the two of them together. Then she mentions that the war is going well, that it will definitely be a few more years before all countries are involved, and that she hopes her business will thrive. She asks Yvette why she's drinking in the afternoon when she's sick.
  • Yvette claims all this about her being sick is just a rumor.
  • Yvette is mad that everyone keeps avoiding her. They all think she's got something wrong with her. Tossing her hat aside, she says the real reason she's drinking is that no one wants her anymore. The whole army knows her. She should have just stayed at home when her first boyfriend ditched her. People like her and MC, she says, don't have any business being proud.
  • MC tries to keep her from bringing up the story of her first boyfriend, Pieter. She doesn't want Kattrin getting any romantic ideas.
  • Yvette thinks the story will "put her off love," i.e., convince her that romance isn't worth her while.
  • There's no use in trying that, MC says.
  • Then Yvette sings The Song of Fraternization, about how she used to party with the army boys back in Flanders (a Dutch-speaking region in Belgium, not the neighbor from the Simpsons). The song tells how she met Pieter, a cook with the army. Then, one day the army left and she never saw him again. Yvette decided to follow the army. That was five years ago.
  • Yvette is drunk now. After singing her song, she teeters behind the cart, leaving her hat out front.
  • MC tells Kattrin to take note of Yvette's story and stay out of any love business. She tells her to thank her lucky stars that she's mute; that way she never has to regret telling the truth to someone or saying how she really feels about them. Talk about a depressing outlook on life.
  • The cook and the chaplain enter.
  • The chaplain has a message from Eilif, and that the cook came along because he wanted to see MC.
  • The cook says he just wanted some fresh air.
  • MC says she has no money for Eilif.
  • The message is actually for Swiss Cheese, the chaplain tells her.
  • MC doesn't want him trying to lure Swiss Cheese into the war, and tries to hand over some money for Eilif.
  • The cook suggests that she give him some more money, since the regiment will be heading off soon and he might run into trouble. "You women are tough," he tells her.
  • Arguing with the cook, the chaplain says it's a blessing to die in a war "fought for the faith."
  • Sure, the cook says, in some ways this war is like all the others, with murder, rape, and looting, but at least it's a war of faith, right? But hey, all this talk has made him thirsty for some booze.
  • The chaplain tells MC the cook's taken a fancy to her.
  • All the cook wants is some brandy from "a fair hand." Can anyone blame him? Plus, he says, the chaplain has been telling dirty jokes the whole way over.
  • MC gives them drinks before they start making her "immoral suggestions."
  • The chaplain sees Kattrin and asks who "this entrancing person" is.
  • She's a "decent" person, MC replies, not an entrancing one. MC, the cook, and the chaplain head behind the cart.
  • Meanwhile, Kattrin leaves her housework behind, picks up Yvette's hat and pulls the red boots toward her. Uh-oh, we can see where this is heading.
  • We can still hear MC talking with the cook and the chaplain in the background.
  • MC thinks the Poles had it coming, since they tried to resist when the Swedish king invaded their country. They should have just submitted.
  • And, the chaplain adds, the king only wanted to free them anyway. Before the king came along, the Poles were slaves to the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. (See our section on "Setting" for more about the HRE.)
  • Now, the cook: it's a good thing the king had "God's word" on his side, because otherwise people might get the idea that he started the whole war just "to make a bit on the side." While trying to "bring freedom" to Germany and Poland, the king has been raising taxes back in Sweden, making quite a profit off the whole thing.
  • MC says she can tell he's not a Swede by the way he's badmouthing the "Hero King."
  • And it's the king who gives the cook his bread, after all, replies the chaplain.
  • Well, the cook says, I'm the one who bakes it.
  • MC, speaking a little more "seriously," says that the people in charge of war say it's all for God, but really, just like "little people like me," they're in it for themselves, i.e., for profit.
  • The cook couldn't agree more.
  • The chaplain tells the cook he should think twice about what he says, being a Dutchman and not a Swede. He points to the Protestant regiment's flag flying above MC's wagon.
  • MC toasts to them all being "good Lutherans." (The translator uses "Lutheran" to mean "Protestant" here.)
  • In the meantime, we see Kattrin with Yvette's hat on, strutting around the front of the wagon.
  • A cannon goes off and MC, the chaplain and the cook rush back out. The armorer is back with another soldier, and they're trying to take the cannon attached to MC's clothesline.
  • It turns out the Catholics have broken through their defenses.
  • The cook heads off to find the general. MC sees that he forgot his pipe; he tells her to keep it.
  • MC can't believe the enemy would attack just when she's starting to make some money.
  • The chaplain also decides to head off. He wishes he had a cloak to cover his religious outfit.
  • MC at first won't give him one, but when he makes it clear that looking like a Protestant chaplain might get him into trouble with the enemy, she finds him one.
  • Then the chaplain decides it might be better if he stuck around after all.
  • MC tells the soldier, who's still trying to get the cannon ready, to take off. She asks him, "Who's going to pay you for that?"
  • The solder splits.
  • Then MC finally sees Kattrin dressed in Yvette's hat and boots. She yells at her to take them off. She asks whether she wants the enemy to come along and "make a prostitute" of her. She tries to pull the boots off herself.
  • Yvette comes back, powdering her face. She asks where her hat is. She wants to look good for the Catholics.
  • Kattrin hides the boots under her skirt when Yvette comes over looking for them.
  • Swiss Cheese runs in with the moneybox, just as MC comes back with her hands full of ashes.
  • She asks him what he's got and he tells her it's the regiment's moneybox.
  • He has to get rid of it, MC insists.
  • He says he's responsible for it and heads behind the wagon.
  • MC tells the chaplain to change out of his religious outfit, since it's still visible under the cloak. Then she goes over to Kattrin and rubs the ashes all over her face. She explains that it's to make her look dirty so she'll be protected from the Catholic soldiers, who will go after "anything in skirts." Even a bed.
  • She asks Swiss Cheese what he did with the moneybox and he tells her that he thought he'd hide it in the wagon.
  • But the Regiment will find the cash and think she stole it.
  • Swiss Cheese says he'll move it. MC says it's too late and that he should just stay put and hold onto it.
  • MC takes down the regimental flag, after the chaplain makes a fuss.
  • The sound of cannons grows stronger.
  • Scene change: It's morning three days later. The cannon is gone. MC, Kattrin, the chaplain, and Swiss Cheese are gloomily sharing a meal.
  • Swiss Cheese worries out loud about the sergeant coming to ask him where the moneybox is.
  • MC tells him to consider himself lucky that they aren't out trying to find him.
  • The chaplain is bummed because he can't hold religious services; otherwise the enemy might find out he's Protestant.
  • MC says she doesn't know what's more dangerous—Swiss Cheese with his moneybox, or the chaplain with his Protestant faith.
  • Well, they're all in God's hands, says the chaplain.
  • MC says she doesn't think it's all that bad yet. She knows how to pretend to be Catholic, by telling the enemy she doesn't believe in the Swedish "Antichrist" and by asking for church candles. (You only use church candles in Catholic churches.) In any case, she says, they'll turn a blind eye to her because they don't have a canteen lady to sell them booze. So, even if they're prisoners, they're like "fleas on a dog," feeding off their host.
  • The chaplain says that's good news, but they'll still have to watch out and not expect to have as much food as before. They've been defeated, he says.
  • MC doesn't think they've been defeated. For the little people down below, she says, defeat can sometimes be a good thing.
  • She remembers a time when their general was defeated in Livonia and she got a horse to pull her wagon. In general, she says, both victory and defeat are expensive for the little people. The best thing, according to her, is political gridlock, when neither side is winning or losing.
  • Swiss Cheese is too worried to eat his dinner. He's still thinking about what the sergeant will do when it's time to pay his soldiers.
  • MC reminds him that they don't pay soldiers after a defeat.
  • But it's still their right, Swiss Cheese says. Soldiers should be paid for having to retreat.
  • MC says he needs to learn to stop with all his honesty. She's getting worried for him. She tells him that she and the chaplain are heading off to find a Catholic flag and some meat. She's glad the Catholics are letting her keep up her business. Soldiers aren't interested in her faith; they care more about her prices. And a pair of pants bought from a Protestant is just as good as any other.
  • The chaplain compares that to the response of a mendicant friar (a monk who makes his living by begging) when he heard that the Protestants were invading: "They'll always need beggars." MC goes into the wagon and the chaplain asks Swiss Cheese how long he thinks it will be before the Catholics figure out the two of them aren't just members of MC's crew, and discover the moneybox.
  • Swiss Cheese says he can get rid of the moneybox.
  • The chaplain warns him that that's even more dangerous, because the Catholics have spies. Some little guy with an eye patch caught the chaplain relieving himself the other day, and he almost let out a prayer before he stopped himself.
  • MC clambers out of the wagon with the red boots in hand, saying Kattrin stole them from Yvette. She says it's all because the chaplain got it into her head that she's an "enchanting person." She reminds Kattrin that she's not to get dressed up until it's peacetime and the soldiers are gone.
  • MC says it would be best if Kattrin didn't stand out at all, like a stone in Dalecarlia (where there are a whole lot of stones). That way she'd be safe. Then she tells Swiss Cheese to keep hold of his money box, and to watch out for Kattrin.
  • She heads out with the chaplain.
  • Swiss Cheese talks to Kattrin. She gestures to ask whether he wants a drink. He takes a drink, and starts to say that he thinks it would be best to get rid of the moneybox. He decides to stick it in a hole down by the river, just to hide it for a while. Then he can get it later and bring it back to his regiment.
  • As Kattrin comes out with the drink in hand, she runs into two men. One is a sergeant and the other has an eye patch. The spy!
  • The one-eyed spy asks her if she's seen anyone around there from the Second Finnish Regiment.
  • She runs off, spilling the drink.
  • The two men hide when they see Swiss Cheese sitting there.
  • Swiss Cheese gets up and announces that he's going to hide the moneybox.
  • Kattrin tries to let him know about the men, but he ignores her. He thinks she's trying to apologize for spilling his drink.
  • She tries to hold him back, but he pulls himself away and exits. Kattrin paces back and forth, making little noises.
  • The chaplain returns with MC and Kattrin runs to her mother.
  • So, Kattrin might be mute, but MC can still interpret what Kattrin is trying to say. She figures out that Swiss Cheese went off with the box and that a one-eyed man came along.
  • The spy!
  • MC raises the Catholic flag she bought. Just then, the two men bring in Swiss Cheese.
  • The sergeant accuses MC of knowing Swiss Cheese.
  • They all try to pretend that Swiss Cheese was just a customer at MC's canteen. The chaplain is just her dishwasher.
  • She offers them some booze, but they turn it down.
  • The soldiers are on a single track to make Swiss Cheese confess.
  • When they ask what he hid by the river, he claims it was someone else.
  • Everybody knows her, MC says, and she's a good judge of people. She can tell Swiss Cheese has an honest face.
  • But the soldiers been tracking the regiment for days and they know that Swiss Chees is their man.
  • Swiss Cheese still denies it.
  • When they demand the moneybox, MC chimes in, trying to convince Swiss Cheese to turn it over if he still has it. She agrees with the soldiers, saying that if he had the box he would definitely give it to them rather than get executed. (Wink, wink.)
  • Swiss Cheese says he doesn't have the box.
  • The soldiers lead him off.
  • MC runs after them, saying that he'll tell them where the box is, all right, as long as they don't hurt him.
  • Scene change: Now it's evening on the same day. The chaplain and Kattrin are doing dishes.
  • The whole thing with Swiss Cheese reminds the chaplain of Jesus. Okay, we're not following you on that one, Chap, but here goes.
  • He sings The Song of the Hours. The song is about the events leading up to and including Jesus' crucifixion. (More on this in our "Symbolism, Allegory, Imagery" section.)
  • MC rushes back in. She says the general can still be bought out. As long as they don't admit that they know Swiss Cheese, which would get them all in trouble, they can save his life. They just need money. She asks if Yvette is around. Since she's dating a colonel now, she might be able to buy the canteen business from MC.
  • What'll she live on if she sells the wagon, the chaplain asks.
  • MC doesn't know.
  • Yvette comes in with her "extremely ancient" colonel. She hugs MC and whispers that the colonel is "not unwilling" to buy her business. Out loud again, she introduces the colonel as her friend, who is there to advise her in business matters. Yvette says she heard that MC is selling her wagon, and that she's thinking it over.
  • MC says she's not selling it, just pledging it. (Okay, that means she gets the money first, then hands over the wagon later only if she can't pay the money back.)
  • Yvette isn't sure she's interested in a pledge. She asks the colonel what he thinks, and he tells her to do whatever she pleases. (He calls her his "pet." Grossness.)
  • MC insists that she's only pledging the wagon, otherwise she'd be out of luck.
  • The colonel seems to agree that Yvette should buy the wagon outright, rather than accept MC's pledge.
  • MC tells her to look through her stuff, then, to see if there's anything else she wants to buy.
  • Yvette asks how long she'll have to wait to get the money back.
  • MC expects about one or two weeks.
  • Yvette takes the colonel aside. She knows MC has to sell, and Yvette's pretty sure she can get the money for the wagon from an ensign who's "crazy" about her.
  • The colonel tells her to keep away from the ensign and let him buy it for her. (This time he calls her "pussykins." Double grossness.)
  • Yvette hesitates, but accepts. She decides to take MC's pledge and pay her 200 florins for the wagon.
  • As Yvette goes looking for boots in the wagon, MC asks her whether she can still put a good word in with the sergeant for Swiss Cheese. He's supposed to be court-martialed in an hour.
  • MC pulls her from the wagon and tells her to get going, and to remember not to mention who's paying the money.
  • Yvette says she's planning to meet the guy with the eye patch out in the forest.
  • The chaplain suggests that 150 florins might be a better deal.
  • MC tells him to butt out. She pushes Yvette off.
  • The chaplain asks MC what she expects to live on, what with a mute daughter and all.
  • MC is counting on the moneybox, hoping that the regiment will allow Swiss Cheese to keep the cash for his service.
  • Chap isn't sure Yvette will be able to get the job done.
  • MC says she'll get the job done because she wants the 200 florins.
  • MC wastes no time setting Kattrin and the chaplain back to work. She tells the chaplain to stop standing around like "Jesus on Mount of Olives" and quit complaining about having to run around more than he used to do in church.
  • Thank God people are still corruptible, she tells them. Corruption is like God's compassion: as long as it's there, even an innocent man can stand a chance of being set free.
  • Yvette comes rushing in, saying they'll let him go for 200, but it has to be quick. Swiss Cheese has admitted to having the box, after they used thumbscrews to torture him. (Ouch.)
  • As it turns out, Swiss Cheese never hid the moneybox, but tossed it and all the cash into the river once he realized the men had seen him with it. Darn.
  • How is MC supposed to pay back Yvette?
  • MC needs some time to think. She tells Yvette she'll pay 120 instead of 200.
  • Yvette says they'll never go for it.
  • But MC can't lose her cart, especially with her poor daughter.
  • Yvette rushes off to tell the sergeant.
  • MC helps Kattrin polish knives. She tells her she'll pay the 200 if it comes to it, that Swiss Cheese will be back soon.
  • "The Lord will provide," the chaplain adds.
  • Kattrin runs off sobbing.
  • Yvette comes back, saying they won't agree to 120 florins. The one-eyed man is waiting for a drum-roll that will signal when Swiss Cheese has been sentenced to death. Yvette says she even offered him 150, but still no luck.
  • MC says to tell the man she'll pay 200. MC is afraid she's bargained too long at this point.
  • We hear a drumroll in the distance. The chaplain gets up and goes to the rear. It grows dark. When the drumming stops, it becomes light again.
  • Yvette returns, looking pretty shook up. They shot Swiss Cheese eleven times. Apparently they didn't believe that he threw the box in the river and are on their way to find out whether it's with MC in the wagon. The plan is to bring his body to MC to see how she reacts.
  • Yvette offers to take Kattrin away, but MC shakes her head.
  • Yvette brings Kattrin to her mother and the two stand holding hands.
  • Two soldiers and the sergeant come in with a stretcher bearing Swiss Cheese's body.
  • He asks them if they know his name, removing the sheet from the body.
  • MC shakes her head. Ouch.
  • The sergeant tells the two soldiers to throw his body in the pit, since no one can identify him.