Summary of Scene Three
Three years pass and Mother Courage is taken prisoner along with parts of the Finnish regiment. The headnote warns that the honest son will die in this scene.
Mother Courage is in the camp, with her laundry hung on a line between her wagon and the cannon. She and Kattrin fold laundry while she bargains with the Ordnance officer over a bag of bullets. Swiss Cheese is in uniform, and a pretty girl named Yvette Poitier is sewing a hat while drinking brandy. She has taken off her red boots. The officer tries to sell the bullets to buy liquor for the officers. Mother Courage berates him for selling army property. The men need the bullets to fight, but she buys from him.
She turns to Swiss Cheese and asks him about his job as paymaster. He got the job because he is honest, and she hopes his books balance. An officer escorts Swiss Cheese away. She talks to Yvette about the war. It looks promising as more and more countries get involved. She can make a lot of money.
She scolds Yvette, the regiment’s prostitute, for drinking in the morning. Yvette denies she has any illness; rumors that she is sick are keeping the men away from her. She wishes she had stayed home when her first man was unfaithful to her. Yvette says she was ruined by an army cook she calls Peter Piper because he always had a pipe in his mouth. She sings “The Fraternization Song” about how the soldiers fraternize with the girls of the foe behind the trees of the land they march through. Yvette warns Kattrin to stay away from faithless men.
The Cook and the Chaplain enter. They bring a message from Eilif who wants money. Eilif blackmails his mother into giving him money by hinting he might try to get it from his brother who is a paymaster. Mother Courage does not want Swiss Cheese to be tempted, so she pays instead.
The Cook, Chaplain, and Mother Courage have a discussion about the war over a glass of brandy. The Cook is also trying to court her and lights his clay pipe. The Chaplain claims it is a blessing for a soldier to die because it is a war of religion, pleasing to God. The Cook shows that it is like any other war with its plundering and raping. The Chaplain piously comments that the Swedish King was only trying to liberate the Poles and Germans from the Kaiser so they could be free.
The Cook mockingly sings “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” while Kattrin puts on Yvette’s red boots. He explains that King Gustavus ran up so much debt in the war he had to levy taxes back home in Sweden, which the poor folk did not like.
Mother Courage adds that the king is unbeatable because his men believe in him, not because of religion, but because the war is prosperous for those under him, like the Cook, Chaplain, and Mother Courage. They all share in the profit of war.
Kattrin wearing the red boots struts around like Yvette in a sexy manner. Suddenly there is cannon fire. The Catholics have surprised them. The Cook runs back to camp. The Chaplain begs for a cloak to hide his parson’s outfit from the Catholics. He decides to stay with Mother Courage for the time being. She tries to make Kattrin look ugly, smearing ashes on her. Yvette comes in looking for her boots, but Kattrin hides them.
Swiss Cheese enters with the regiment cash box to save it from the enemy and deposits it in the wagon. Mother Courage, Kattrin, Swiss Cheese, and the Chaplain wait for three days during the battle. Swiss Cheese is anxious to return with the cash box so the Sergeant will not be worried. Mother Courage replies they are Catholic prisoners now, though she is pretending to be a Catholic. The enemy lets her alone because they need a canteen.
Mother Courage finds Kattrin hiding Yvette’s boots and chides her; she has to wait for peacetime to try to get a man. Swiss Cheese talks to Kattrin about the cash box. He decides to take it to the river and hide it in a hole to take the danger away from his mother. Meanwhile the Sergeant and a man with one eye (an informer) come behind him while he talks of hiding the cash box. Kattrin tries to tell him to be quiet, but he does not understand her. The men follow Swiss Cheese. Soon they come back with him as a prisoner. Swiss Cheese and his mother pretend not to know each other. The Chaplain sings “The Song of the Hours” about the death of Christ.
Mother Courage attempts to buy Swiss Cheese out of trouble with a bribe. Yvette has found a Colonel willing to buy a canteen business for her so Mother Courage can use the cash for a bribe. Yvette and the Colonel appear to close the deal, but suddenly Mother Courage starts haggling that she is only pawning the wagon because it is how she makes her living. She only wants to pawn it for two weeks, but the Colonel wants to buy it. Yvette talks him into the deal. Swiss Cheese is up for court martial in one hour. Mother Courage explains her strategy to the Chaplain. Yvette will get two hundred guilders from the Colonel, and she will get the money to buy back the wagon from the regiment cash box still hidden.
Yvette says the regiment will make the deal for two hundred, but One Eye, the informer, had stolen the cash box and threw it in the river. Mother Courage says she needs a moment to think; she offers 120 so she can keep eighty to start over. She insists, “I must hold on to something” (p. 62). Yvette runs back with the news that they want two hundred, so Mother Courage finally gives in, but it is too late. They hear the drum roll for the execution. Yvette accuses her of haggling too long. The soldiers believe the cash box is with Mother Courage and come with the dead body of Swiss Cheese to see if she will reveal herself. They show her the body of her dead son, but she continues to deny she knows him. They say they will throw him in the carrion pit since no one claims him.
Commentary on Scene Three
This is a climactic scene, though Brecht does not follow normal plot development. Mother Courage is put to the test and proves that her business, her money, is more important to her than her children. The Chaplain sings the song about Christ’s death, and in many ways, Swiss Cheese is the innocent Christ figure. He ironically buys his mother’s life with his death. She continues to lose her children through her haggling. Kattrin shows her character by sobbing while her mother tries to save her wagon instead of her brother. Her tender heart has no outlet in this world as she is forced to follow her mother. The mother denies her daughter’s desire for a home and children. She sees Kattrin as a worker in the canteen, but also as a liability and likes that she is dumb. She promises Kattrin a husband when the war is over, but it never is over, and she does not want it to be. Mother Courage continues to speculate on the length of the war as part of her strategy with the wagon. She sees the conflict as one of power between King, Pope, and Emperor, and does not see how it can stop.