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Both the central characters Mother Courage (Anne Fierling) and Nora in the plays Mother Courage and Her Children and A Doll's House show the contradicting role of 'Motherhood'. When we think of a mother, we usually think of a compassionate lady who will sacrifice all her comforts and will work eternally in the home without expecting any monetary reward, only to take care of her children. Motherhood means sacrifice and pain from day one of conception. But this pain and sacrifice brings forward a beautiful feeling in a woman after she finds that her children are happy and healthy. That is the only reward she desires from her children. And that is motherhood.
Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children is considered by many to be among the playwright's best work and one of the most powerful anti-war dramas in history. Brecht wanted audiences to think critically and objectively about the play's message, to assess the effects of war on an empirical level. Mother courage the title character, her real name is Anna Fierling. She earns her name Mother Courage in Riga when she runs through an on-going war in order to sell her loaves of bread and earn her living.( scene one page 2, grove press, 1966 ) She has three children, Eilif, Swiss Cheese, and Kattrin, whom mother courage tries to take care of and protect throughout the play. But ultimately, she loses all three children while following the war around Europe and ends the play alone with her wagon. It is not that because of the war she loses all her children it is solely due to her act. Now here the role of motherhood is compromised. The character of Mother Courage is a deeply contradictory character in her. She is courageous, forthright, and intelligent, yet lethally unable to give up her business deal in order to protect her children, thus, presenting us the fragile side of her motherhood.
However, A Doll's House is play about a typical housewife who becomes disillusioned and dissatisfied with her condescending husband. Ibsen's presentation of A Doll's House moves away from the romantic drama genre to a presentation of an objective reality, trying to portray real social problems. Though she commits a crime of forgery, she proves to be a good mother unlike Mother Courage. By the end of the plays we can clearly visualise her love for her children.
Though, the play Mother Courage and Her Children scrutinizes war not just as a capitalistic system but also on a domestic level. It is central to the emotional impact of the play that it is about a 'mother' and her 'children'. As mentioned above Mother Courage gets her nickname from driving loaves through the bombardment of Riga (scene one page 2, grove press, 1966), but I would consider this as rashness rather than true courage. Moreover, also if she is courageous why is she been given the title MOTHER courage? Is she doing it for the wellbeing of her children? Mother Courage's treatment of Kattrin and Swiss Cheese emphasizes the difficulty of combining her role of "mother". Mother courage is not even bothered that whether her trading supports or hinders her family. She just wants to survive the war somehow. But ultimately it results in the deaths of all of her children. Moreover, whenever one of the children die, Mother Courage is distracted by business affairs she moves on with her life neglecting the agony of her children's deaths. This clearly states that Mother Courage is very bold and self-centred.
On the other hand, Nora is the beloved, adored wife of Torvald Helmer. Nora considers herself fortunate. Indeed, she worships her husband, believes in him implicitly, and is sure that if ever her safety should be menaced, Torvald, her idol, her god, would perform the miracle. When Krogstad threatens to reveal the truth about her forgery; Nora realizes that she has potentially brought scandal upon Torvald Helmer's good name and the future of her children. At the beginning of the play, it is made very clear that Nora adores her three children. There is a scene in which she and the children laugh and scream and gambol in and out of the room as they play hide-and-seek, and shouts of laughter are heard. During all of this cheerfulness, there is a knock at the door, but nobody hears it because they are too busy playing. This scene exemplifies Nora's love for her children and shows how much they love her. Also when, they enter the room, while Nora is with her friend Christine, Nora fauns over her darlings, expressing 'Oh, you sweet blessings! Look at them Christine! Aren't they darlings?'(Citation)It is clear that Nora loves her children very much, and this is what helps her husband, Torvald, to have power over her. In a fit of rage, he tells her 'I shall not allow you to bring up the children; I dare not trust them to you.' Here, he tries to take control of the situation by taking away Nora's right to her children. This is a huge threat to a woman, because of her maternal instincts.
Nora's love for her children provides all the more shock when she leaves them. She says 'goodbye, Torvald. I won't see the little ones. I know they are in better hands than mine. As I am now, I can be of no use to them.'(Citation) She makes the ultimate sacrifice, giving up her children because she knows she cannot help them. She has been so trapped in her own home that she is even willing to leave those most precious to her, her children, to escape from Torvald and her suffocating existence 'I will often think of you and the children and this house.'
Here, Nora though she has done a crime of forgery, I sympathize with her. Because, all she has done was to save her husband. Much has been discussed regarding the final controversial scene. Why does Nora leave not only Torvald but her children as well? Some argue that Nora leaves her home purely because she is selfish. She does not want to forgive Torvald. She would rather start another life than try to fix her existing one. Or perhaps she feels that Torvald was right, that she is a child who knows nothing of the world. Since she knows so little about herself or society, she feels that she is an inadequate MOTHER and wife. But, she leaves her children because she feels it is for their benefit, painful as it may be to her. However, in Mother Courage and her Children, by the end of the play, mother courage seems to be deeply unsympathetic. Mother Courage, is presented to us in such a way that we are usually left not knowing how to feel. We have two choices either to sympathize or empathize. She can be a money grubbing, self concerned woman who only cares about herself and those directly related to her money. But on the other hand she can be considerate and caring mother who only wants to protect her children. Question raises that we are misinterpreting her thoughts but if it is so then, when Mother Courage looses all three of her children at the end of the play. As each of them dies she just seems to pick up and move on, with a brief moment of sorrow. This is a characteristic that convinces me to contempt for her, and rightly so. If I was in her places, the death of my child would have propelled me to leave everything and mourn for his/her death. But it doesn't seem to reach Mother Courage on this level.
Failing to save her love and children, Nora closes behind her the door of her doll's house, thereby opening the wide gate of life for woman, and declare the innovative message that only perfect freedom and empathy make a true bond between man and woman, meeting in the open, without lies, without shame, free from the bondage of duty. She begins to question her own morality, something she has never done before. Did she do something wrong? Was it not the right thing to do, under the circumstances? Will the courts convict her? Is she an improper wife? Is she a terrible mother? But people tend to sympathise with Nora