Friday, November 15, 2019

Mother Courage and her Children Essay -- Bertolt Brecht Plays Tragedie

Mother Courage and her Children "Mother Courage and her Children", by Bertolt Brecht, is a play which can be seen from varying perspectives. Some consider it to be a comment on the socio-economic aspects of war, others as a criticism of bourgeois capitalism intended to encourage change in modern society. The somewhat tragic events of the play enable critics to consider it a "tragedy", but one which, to some extent, diverges from the Aristotelian definition. Aristotle believed that tragedy must revolve around a central character: the "tragic hero", on whom the plot focuses and who exhibits certain characteristics, which leads to his, though in this particular case, her, downfall. The role of such a figure is pivotal to the presentation of a play as a tragedy; yet it remains largely unclear with which character within the play this identity lies: Mother Courage herself, or her daughter, Kattrin. Perhaps the most obvious potential tragic figure is the lead character within the play: Mother Courage. She demonstrates an ability to survive, through which the audience recognizes her strength of character and instinct of self-preservation. This links closely with her sense of capitalism, which she prioritizes over alternative, more virtuous qualities presented within the play, such as Swiss Cheese's honesty and Kattrin's selflessness. Mother Courage's rigid capitalist stance can be interpreted as her "tragic flaw", or "hamartia", the term Aristotle uses to describe the mistake leading to the protagonist's downfall. It is a flaw that Mother Courage consistently exhibits and a mistake which occurs thrice in the deaths of her children, as she is absent conducting business on all three occasions. However, despite her apparent detachment towards her children, it is evident that Mother Courage harbours genuine concern for the well-being of her children: in a discussion with Cook over fu ture prospects, she states, "all I'm after is (to) get meself and children through all this with my cart". In the juxtaposition created by the reluctant combination of the roles of the mother and the tradeswoman, it is perhaps foremost a tragic contradiction within Mother Courage's character, rather than her role as a tragic heroine, that is emphasized. Alternatively, this contrast could be interpreted as an indication that Mother Courage is morally "neither all good nor all bad"... ...her tragic flaw. There is a clear obstacle in Kattrin's position as a tragic heroine in that she is not the central character, making it difficult to envisage her as the true tragic heroine of the play. However, she could not realistically carry the lead role in such a play due to her muteness, as it would hinder characterization and plot development. Nevertheless, Kattrin is on stage for a considerable proportion of the play, suggesting that although she may not hold the most prominent position, she acts as a closely connected tragic antithesis to the lead role, Mother Courage. In conclusion, it could be argued that either of these two women in "Mother Courage and her Children" could be described loosely as a tragic heroine, but I believe that Kattrin displays the heroism and virtue that are required to be considered worthy of this title: Mother Courage is absorbed in a society where the possession of heroic qualities is not only impossible, but irrelevant. The combination of tragic circumstances with Brecht's "Verfremdung" technique prevents tragedy from overpowering other aspects of the play, which accounts for the difficulty in identifying a true Aristotelian tragic hero.

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