Significance of Songs in Mother Courage and Her Children

Brecht emphasized on music and songs in his plays and Mother Courage is no exception to music and songs. In fact, in this play, there are songs in almost all the scenes except in scenes 5 and 11. Brecht considered music and songs to be insertions in the play treated them in an unconventional and novel manner. The songs in the play perform the role of explaining the themes of the play, describe various events in the play and comment on the past actions and future events in the play. Every important character sings a song in the play. Mother Courage herself sings five songs and a lullaby in the play, Eilif, Yvette, Chaplain and the Cook sing one song each and the soldiers sing two songs.

In Scene 1 Mother Courage sings a song informing about her trade as a canteen woman and invites soldiers to buy food and drinks from her wagon as they may soon be buried or gone underground in the course of the war. This song strikes the keynote of “war” in the play.

“Oh have yer squaddies halt and buy
New boots and claes an aw forbye!
Flearidden sojers who love their loot”

The song exposes the true nature of Mother Courage as an individual who profits from the war by selling her goods at a higher price and also the cynical realism adopted by Mother to her life.

Eilif sings a song in Scene 2 called “The Fish Wife and the Soldier” that describing a story about an ambitious soldier lad getting killed in the war meeting a premature death. The song proves to be ironic for Eilif as he predicts his own tragic destiny. In Scene 3 Yvette sings a song called “The Song of Fraternization”, an autobiographical song describing her camp life as a prostitute after she was left a destitute by a soldier who she loved passionately. This song also proves to be a warning for Mother Courage’s daughter Kattrin against getting involved with a soldier. In the same scene the Chaplain sings a funeral song that is dirge “Song of the Hours” describing the passion of Christ suffering his execution in agony known as ‘The Crucifixion’. The song is an appropriate description and comparison of the impending execution of Swiss Cheese with Christ’s Crucifixion.

In Scene 4 Mother Courage sings the autobiographical song “Song of the Great Capitalization” that describes the disillusionment, frustrations and dashing of hopes related to war. It also describes the bitterness, anger and hatred of Mother Courage towards war and how war forces one to compromise on our principles for the sake of survival. In scene 6, a soldier’s song describes his feelings and attitude who is always on the move and how he tries hard to enjoy the fewer pleasures of life. In the same scene Mother Courage sings about “War as Business” but does not seem to learn any lessons from the horrors and destruction of war but continues to profit from the war.

In Scene 9, the Cook sings a long song titled “The Song of the Wise and the Good” expressing the futility of wisdom, bravery, unselfishness, honesty and every virtue in the world. The Cook describes himself and Mother Courage as God fearing individuals and faith has only caused them misery. The song also provides a symbolic significance to three children of Mother Courage who represent three cardinal principles such as bravery of Eilif like Julius Caesar, honesty of Swiss Cheese like Socrates and unselfishness of Kattrin like Martin who all meet a tragic end. In scene 10 “The Song of Shelter and Security” sung by the inmate of a prosperous farmhouse and heard by Mother Courage and Kattrin makes the audience aware of the contrast between the prosperity of the farmhouse and the hardships faced by Mother Courage and her daughter.

In the concluding scene 12 there are two songs and a lullaby sung by Mother Courage to Kattrin who has fallen asleep. The song is a painful reminder to the misfortunes in relation to both her sons.

“aya Papaya
Who sleeps in the hay?

I see your eyes close
One kid lies in Poland
The other, well, who knows?”

The last song is sung by the soldiers that describe the devastation of war causing more misery and that war will continue for three generations. The song ends on a painful note of gloom and helplessness. All the songs are integral to the plot and development of action of the play. The enhance the dramatic action of the play and offer commentary on scenes and themes in the play.

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