chapter  4
RETELLINGS
Pages 41

Mother Courage is first seen in Brecht’s play lolling at her ease in a covered wagon pulled by her sons, Eilif and Swiss Cheese. Beside her in the wagon is her dumb daughter, Kattrin. A Sergeant and a Recruiter challenge Courage. Who is she, they ask, and what is her business? By reply, Courage sings her selling song, defining business-the selling of food and other provisions to the soldiers-as precisely the reason for her presence. Mother Courage and Her Children focuses primarily on the central figure of Courage: mother and, at the same time, war profiteer. What Brecht demonstrates in the play is the impossibility of sustaining this dual role. One after another, Courage loses her children to the war which is also her source of livelihood, but, at the end of the play, worn and bent as she has become, she drags the wagon on her own, calling after the disappearing army, ‘Take me with you!’ (Brecht 1962:81). Mother Courage presents an audience with an opportunity to learn a lesson that its protagonist never learns, a lesson summed up by the Sergeant at the end of the first scene in this way: ‘When a war gives you all you earn/One day it may claim something in return!’ (ibid.: 13).