A contradiction between family and commerce is a conflict the play Mother Courage and Her Children grapple with. Bertolt Brecht suggests people have an unsteady income during peacetime, whereas wartime is an endless commercial opportunity. Mother Courage despises the 30-year war, yet she profits from it to survive. However, she does not achieve her either of her goals to keep her family together through the war and make a profit.
Mother Courage supports her family by following the Swedish regiments. She and her children pull a wagon and sell goods to soldiers. While driven by the need to survive the war, Mother Courage has skewed priorities. By equating financial success with survival, she believes this is the only way her family will make it through the war. She often chooses to do business before tending to her family. This choice negatively impacts her children. For example, Eilif loses his humanity and ultimately his life after being recruited by the army. Mother Courage once boasted about how honest of a person Swiss Cheese is, but he ends up lying to save himself and his family.
Additionally, Mother Courage’s means for survival ultimately leads to her children’s demise. For example, while Mother Courage tries to sell a belt buckle, Eilif gets recruited to the army. The Catholics execute Swiss Cheese while Mother Courage tries to negotiate a ransom price for his life. While Mother Courage is buying goods, Kattrin perishes while warning the town of a surprise attack.
Although there are instances where Mother Courage makes an ethical decision to protect her family, it is not at the expense of her business. In her eyes, she doesn’t have to prostitute herself if she has goods or food to sell instead. Her cleverness and ambition offer a small degree of agency and power, but she refuses to reflect on the quite tragic consequences of her actions. Perhaps self-reflection may weaken her? By the end of the play, Mother Courage is left financially bankrupt and pulling the wagon alone.