War is one of the important themes in the play. Bertolt Brecht presents the play in the background of Thirty Years War. He also discusses the futility and destruction caused by war. Through the theme of War, Brecht exposes the manner in which common people and civilians like Mother Courage and her children are affected by war. More over war has destroyed all the qualities, virtues and traits like humanness, sympathy and compassion. War has turned people and society into a disintegrated whole with emotions like fear, anxiety and disappointment lurking in the minds of people. War has consumed both sons of Mother Courage: Swiss Cheese and Eilif and also resulted in the tragic death of her mute daughter, Kattrin. Mother Courage has no other means of livelihood except to capitalise on war. Through the money that she earns by selling goods from her wagon, Mother Courage is able to provide for her family. Brecht in this play very poignantly depicts the brutalities of war in terms of destruction, ravage, loss of innocent lives and the futility of war.
Mother Courage as an Anti- War play
Brecht wrote the play while in exile in the year 1939. He was extremely moved and disturbed by the turn of events in Europe during the war. Mother Courage is an expression of anti- war play that seems topical in its time and has a universal appeal. Amidst the loss of lives in the war, Brecht writes about the struggle of survival of Mother Courage and her three children. The wagon becomes a source of her livelihood. Mother Courage’s children become victims of war and death is inevitable for them. Right from the beginning of the play, the inverted interests of the military become apparent. Brecht’s main aim was to expose the horrors of war and how it destroys the people through inhuman conditions and wished that the future world should not witness war of such magnitude.
War as Business and Profit
Brecht shows the character of Mother Courage as a “war profiteer”- who makes a living out of the profits of the war. The Thirty Years War has drained the finances of the people and they have no choice but to turn to war as a means of livelihood. Mother Courage is no exception to this rule. She is forced to profit from the war. Not only Mother Courage but other characters like the General Tilly, Cook, Recruiting Officers also profit from the war. Even Yvette Portier, the prostitute is a victim of the business of war. The reader observes the business mind of Mother Courage when she bargains for the release of her son Eilif from the war. Unfortunately, her not relenting to the price quoted of two hundred guilders proves expensive as her son dies before she accepts the price. Mother Courage has a love/ hate relationship with war. She is more interested in profiteering rather than the wellbeing of her children.
Brecht presents a picture of motherhood that is antithetical to the play. All the three children of Mother Courage are born of different fathers. Mother Courage plays the role of a mother who is more interested in money. If war ends, Mother Courage would have no business. Even while trying to save her son Eilif, she is bargaining with the money to be paid rather than releasing him ultimately resulting in his death. In contrast to the profiteering, capitalist Mother Courage, Kattrin is picture of compassion and sacrifice. Though she is mute, she attempts to warn the people against the enemy by beating the drums from the rooftops. This results in getting herself shot.
Brecht shows that religion is often an obstacle during wartime. One of the main concerns in the play is about Christianity and the Bible. He shows the sarcastic character of Chaplain and how the Bible fails during wartime. The Chaplain appears first to be glorifying war and calls it as a “holy war”. Later he appears scared and afraid of the guns roaring during war and tries to save himself from danger. Instead of offering spiritual comfort and solace to people, he is seen with Mother Courage pulling wagon and chopping wood. Brecht exposes the hypocritical view of Christian morality and religion.