The issue of morality and moral responsibility is one that usually elicits varied debates depending on the region and situation of the persons involved. In a majority of cases, whenever times of hardship come around, moral values are abandoned as individuals strive to first maintain their survival amidst the adversities. This essay shall analyse the presentation of morality and moral responsibility as presented in two hardship-themed plays. In the play mother courage and her children by Bertolt Brecht, the roles that have been traditionally associated with women have essentially been abandoned (Brecht 124). This is occasioned majorly by the fact that the situation in which the women (represented by mother courage and Yvette) find themselves in. Brecht wants to illustrate that in a war situation, the social and moral responsibilities are easily abandoned (Thomson, and Vivien 47). Both mother courage and Yvette are in survival mode and they both turn to individualistic ideals as opposed to the communal livelihood that is usually encouraged by the principles of good morals.
The play homebody/Kabul by Tony Kushner is also a description of how lose of societal morals play into change in living conditions (Fisher 198). The major aspect that in essence links into the idea of degrading morals is the issue of corruption; this has actually been given some major prominence in the play. Both plays to some extent propose the moral obligations that family members have to one another. From the play homebody/Kabul, we see the mother leave her family for Afghanistan and when she goes missing her husband and daughter do all that is within their capacity to find her.
Despite the harshness of the environment in Afghanistan, as we come to discover through the eyes of the daughter, she (the daughter) fosters on in her quest to find her mother. Mother Courage goes to all extents to ensure that her children have a better livelihood than most of the people surrounding them. As a matter of fact the play revolves around her and her business and it is revealed how sometimes she employs vices that would normally be unacceptable within the confines of morality such as trickery and lies, in order to make that extra coin. For instance, she categorically denies any knowledge of Swiss Cheese since she knows that he could lose his life should the soldiers find him. In the same dialogue, she admits that she not usually concerned about the identities of individuals and as long individuals pay up, then she has no issues with their background. From this dialogue, we see Mother Courage cleverly cover up the identity of her son; in essence protecting him and herself as well. It is unclear what to make of mother courage’s business especially after the author depicts her as an opportunist who lives of the war.
However, this is a situation that calls for disregard of morality and religious issues in general and first of all work towards one’s survival. Mother Courage wants to make enough money so that she can secure the release of her son. The protective nature that is usually associated to mothers is presented as well in the way Mother Courage tries to shape her daughter’s character by imploring her not to behave like Yvette. In any society, anyone with less than acceptable behavior is generally used as an example when trying to deter young children from deviating towards the improper behavior. This is the way that moral norms are shaped and this is what mother courage is aiming at. The doctor in the play homebody does not exactly fulfill his moral responsibility as he would typically be expected to. He fails to go along with the doctrines of the profession when he goes ahead to detail the gruesome way in which the homebody died without giving consideration to the feelings of her husband and daughter.
This is from the second scene of act one. From the same scene we learn of the reason as to why the homebody was killed. Much as it may not be justifiable from other cultures, the homebody abandoned moral issues as dictated by the rules of the land she had traveled to by not dressing appropriately. It is also revealed that she had gone against the moral demands of her religion by listening to music which she clearly knew was not allowable to Islam. In the play mother courage and her children, Brecht wants to show how irrelevant religion is times of crisis (O’Neil 137). This social and moral aspect is represented in the play, though negatively, through the presence of the chaplain. The chaplain’s character is not quite at par with social expectations as we see him easily change his view points when the situation becomes unfavorable. This is clearly depicted in scene 6.
Towards the end of the play, we see Kattrin climb up to the roof to illustrate how sincere the prayers of the peasants are as compared to those of the church leaders. This effectively shows how the religious leaders have totally abandoned their moral and social responsibilities to the people, in essence leaving them to fend for themselves spiritually. From the play homebody/Kabul, we are left with more questions than answers as regards to the moral viewpoints of the mother. In normal conditions, the mother is thought of as the pillar of strength for the family and she is the least expected to just abandon her responsibility to her home to go live in the land of her dreams (Jenkins 109).
The homebody puts her husband and daughter in a lot of pain and suffering by her act and the audience is left to wonder whether she had taken into consideration the impact that her selfish move would have on the people closest to her. As the story unfolds, we are forced to believe that the entire family is probably in a broken state primarily because of her instability. She has no respect whatsoever for her husband and she refers to him as an “it”. Her daughter though grown up has a history of instability in the sense that she had tried to commit suicide earlier. From the development of the plot in the story Mother Courage and her children, Yvette may have found herself in a moral predicament when she got married to the brother of a colonel she had been with in an earlier scene.
She inherits a fortune once he dies, and this makes it hard for the viewers to believe that she had other intentions other than money when she got married to the colonel’s brother. If she was asked to defend her move, she would probably argue that there is no crime in falling in love with anybody as long as she was not married to someone else. However from an outsider’s perspective this is an argument that could take various morally-positioned angles. Whether true or not, as we are left to decide the homebody also feels the pain that her family is in when a message is conveyed to Priscilla, her daughter urging her not to continue looking for her. She claims that even though she is not dead, her daughter should act like she (the homebody) is.
This maybe the homebody’s gut feeling telling her that she infact made a mistake in abandoning her family and though she may want to go back to her life, she is in a bit too deep to come back. Eventually, Priscilla goes back home without finding her mother or the body she was so committed to find. From Brecht’s play, we find out that mother courage’s business keeps her occupied to the extent that she completely disregards her family. She is not aware of some of her children’s deaths and this is primarily because at the time they occur, she is chasing one or the other of her business ventures.
Aside from the deterioration of her family’s moral values, mother courage also serves to fuel the business of war and eventually becomes a subject in its empire. From the play, the viewer/reader holds his or her breath hoping that she will realize the err of her ways and make a turnaround but tragically, the play ends without her realizing how ignorant she has been of the situations that surround her. The play by Kushner is full of aspects which appear moral judging by the standards of Afghanistan but are definitely amoral by any other standards (Kushner 133). For instance, moral rules demand that revenge is not an acceptable way of solving disagreements. Mullah Aftar Ali Durrani is very bitter at what he terms a bombing attack on Afghanistan. He isolates incidents from America’s history to illustrate his argument that America does not have the moral authority to impose its ideals on other nations. For instance, he cites the Bill Clinton affair with Monica Lewinsky and he declares that the U.
S has absolutely no idea what good morals are. He categorically declares that Islam is the only religion that knows what is good for women.
Brecht, Bertolt. Mother Courage and her children. Massachussets: Methuen, 1980.
Print. Fisher, James. Tony Kushner: new essays on the art and politics of the plays. North Carolina: McFarland, 2006.
Print. Jenkins, Jeffrey. The Best Plays of 2001-2002.
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Kushner, Tony. Homebody/Kabul. London: Nick Hern Books, 2002. Print. O’Neil, Patrick. Great World Writers: Twentieth Century. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2004. Print.
Thomson, Peter, and Vivien Gardner. Brecht: Mother Courage and her children. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.