Mother Courage: the Hole in the Cheese

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Mother Courage contains a quote that pulls the entire play together so innocuously; it's hard to believe that Brecht originally intended it to be so symbolic. Yet, there it is, in scene six, the chaplain rhetorically asks, "What happens to the hole when the cheese is gone?" This line operates on the three essential layers of the play: the level of the character, of the playwright (plot), and of the audience. On "face" value, this line is said about peace. The chaplain believes that the image of peace as the norm and war as an abnormal event is backward. He sees war as the standard occurrence (the cheese) and peace as merely an interim incidence (the holes in the cheese). Thus peace is nothing without a backdrop of war upon it; a hole is only a hole - it contains nothing. The substance of life is war.But the chaplain's line wouldn't be as significannot if it didn't have a more global meaning. In the light of the plot, "What happens to the hole when the cheese is gone?" is a question that Mother Courage should ask and apply to herself. Clearly the cheese is Swiss Cheese specifically, and more generally all of her children. Mother Courage only thinks about a certain part of her children - their use to her in her business. She has an odd sort of motherly care for her children; abstractly, she has affection for them, but it's only abstract. The only concrete feelings she expresses toward her children is that they should listen and depend on her; as long as they stay and work with her, she will keep them safe. But she can't understand that their identities are so crucially different than the tiny roles she has given them in her life. She only sees the hole, but her children are real people with real ambitions. Swiss Cheese has such a desire to be honest and useful, but she only sees a simpleton. Kattrin can't voice her feelings, but it's clear that she's a strong woman like her mother, and yet Mother Courage slams her (unintentionally) in every...
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