Mother Courage Essay, Research Paper
English World Literature
How do Brecht and Zola use language to practice and convey the conventional image of maternal instinct of a mother figure?
Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin are both works with characters that possess maternal instinct. There is not a definite explanation for maternal instinct because it can be viewed differently. Although this is true, there is often a stereotype woman with the ‘right’ qualities of maternal instinct. This often articulates unrealistic images in people’s minds. Instinct means “an imposed set of values, imposed by the society” and the way they think a mother should naturally act by. Realistically, the instinct depends on the mother’s disposition, the way she wants to behave depends on her emotions, which cannot be articulated. Therefore, it is not possible to impose a definite set of values for how a mother should act for it varies from one mother to another.
Mother Courage is a mother who fights for a living so that her three children can survive the war. War to her is a necessity because she needs the business from the soldiers in order to survive, but on the other hand, war is her ultimate enemy. She is doing everything to keep her and her children from being involved with the war. It was her husband’s death that lead to her natural defenses for her children and the war which in turn resulted in expressing her strong maternal instinct.
Also, Mother Courage is forced to make decisions and puts a lot of effort into trying to stay with her children. For example, when the Cook proposes to Mother Courage, Kattrin realizes that the Cook thinks she is a burden and does not like her. Therefore, she decides to leave, but Mother Courage chooses to leave the Cook and follow Kattrin instead. Here, Mother Courage has sacrificed her potential welfare in order to ‘protect’ her only child left.
“[Mother Courage] We’ll go off in t’other direction, and we’ll throw cook’s stuff out so he finds it, silly man.”
But just by looking at this protection towards her children, one cannot readily
Assume that she is a ‘good mother’. Through various sacrifices made by her children, Brecht portrayed traits of human selfishness. For example, when the Recruiter took her bravest son, Eilif away:
“[Recruiter to Eilif] …Got your bounty money here, come along. Eilif stands undecided.”
“[Mother Courage] Half a florin it is.”
Mother Courage, who had always distasted war, loses her most valuable thing, her bravest son to war whilst bargaining the price of a best with the Sergeant. Here, Brecht uses situational irony as an example of how Mother Courage did not ‘meet the criteria’ of a stereotyped maternal instinct. Brecht gave Mother Courage an unconventional response to losing her son, where she is very unsentimental when she realizes her son is lost.
In a similar situation, when a loving mother realizes her son or daughter is missing, she is most likely to have a much more dramatic and concerned attitude when compared to Mother Courage. Despite the loss of her child, Mother Courage seems to have the opposite of this. She decides to go off with her car and her two other children to continue their livelihood; a sense of irony is present as well. The technique here is to use examples, again, to prove that Mother Courage may not be the caring mother she should be.
Then loses her two other children because of her own self-interest in trying to protect her cart rather then her children. First she loses Swiss Cheese when she denies of knowing her son as she was asked and as a result, he is executed in agony. So in trade for her cart, she abuses Swiss Cheese’s sovereignty. Then she loses her daughter while Kattrin was warning the town of Halle of invasion. These three experiences of ‘trade’ with war shows that Mother Courage embodies the qualities of cowardice; for preferring the cart for her own welfare over her children, dishonesty; when she denies to the Sargent of knowing Swiss Cheese, and selfishness; for choosing her own benefits once again.
Madame Raquin occupies the role of a very protective mother in the work, Th?r?se Raquin. She also holds great responsibility for taking care of Camille and his female cousin, Th?r?se. Camille has been ill since his childhood, so she is also considered Camille’s guardian angel. During the later years of her life, she virtually had to take care of Camille’s friend, Th?r?se’s second husband, Laurent, as well. From this, Zola decides to use Camille, Th?r?se and Laurent to demonstrate what he perceives as the ‘ideal’ maternal instinct.
From Camille’s childhood until he reaches adulthood, Madame Raquin would never life an eye off him. She makes sure that he is safe wherever he went; he is never allowed to go to school or learn to swim. Through this over-protection, she shapes Camille’s character. She only allows Camille to play with Th?r?se, which makes him become very dependent on Th?r?se as they “coddled like an ailing child”, shared bed and medication together and “kept in the hot house atmosphere of the little invalid’s room”
Not only did Madame Raquin restrict Camille’s life, but also Th?r?se’s life. Discontent accumulated in her heart as she is described as someone with “supreme self-control, an external tranquility that concealed terrible bursts of passion” , resulting to her uncontrollable temper that lead to adultery. This also made Camille lack the ability to communicate with people other then his family members, which shrunk his social life. His only chance to socialize is every Thursday, when Laurent and other friends come and visit him.
Zola chose to use irony to show the great impact that Madame Raquin’s rules over Camille’s life has on his future, also showing the method that Madame Raquin thought was the best way to teach and protect Camille. Madame Raquin is so worried about the life and death of Camille, that “at any suggestion that he should go off to boarding school” or the thought of “books would be the death of him”, she would tremble all over and believed that “away from her he would die” .
Zola is also an impressionistic writer, which means Zola “attempts to express the immediate sensations of the world and events.” He used the narrow, dark, damp, “dirty, evil and gloomy” bridge to give an impression of the restrictions that Madame Raquin imposes on Camille. This emphasizes on how Madame Raquin’s way of protecting her son is ironic because of the impression of isolation from the society and the sense of suffocation of restrictions. The irony is, by not allowing freedom in Camille’s life, Madame Raquin is indirectly leading him onto the road to no man’s land. He believes that everything Madame Raquin is doing is for his good. The other impressionistic image is the absence of light in the gloomy bridge, hence it gives an impression that it is somewhere that is isolated, as if detached from the rest of the influential and egregious elements of society. Consequently here, Madame Raquin shapes Camille’s character by preventing him from having an ‘untamed’ heart which may kill him, ironically.
Conclusively, the two mothers in these two novels both have their own characteristics and their own way of dealing with their children. But not everyone may acknowledge the ways they deal with their individual problems, some people may approve of it as being maternal love, and some others may disagree. Even the authors may not have wholly approved, they may have used intentionalist fallacy in order to portray the stereotyped mother. Either way, both authors chose to use situations where maternal love was either needed or lacked; as in Mother Courage, or was superfluous; as in Th?r?se Raquin, to reveal maternal instincts through different sections of the plot.
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? Zola, E. (1962). Th?r?se Raquin. England: Penguin.