lines from the mother

In classics long after, quotables on November 30, 2009 at 11:53 pm

“Whatever you do / You’ll still have to struggle / Your position is bad / It’ll worsen. / This cannot go on, but / What is the answer?” – Palagea (1)

The Mother somehow manages to be among Brecht’s warmest plays despite being contained entirely in the thankless task of agitation with no historic shifts, and no exotic transpositions across time or space. The explanation is found in the characters that people the piece – not the frozen grandeur of iconic heroes and their grand gestures but the everyday graft of an inexhaustible rabble many of whom we see before/after being revolutionised (the mother – Palagea – of the title, losing her family in the process, Nikolai, the squeamish teacher drawn ever closer without ever growing less insufferable). That human nature is changeable is one of Brecht’s greatest, deathless assaults against traditional drama, where personality is destiny, and people are sorted by virtue, generally having two modes at most (villains who prove heroes, or vice-versa – but the final position considered as their ‘true self’).

The Mother

“Reading is class war” – Palagea (6c)

Just how much Palagea has changed is underlined toward the finish as she proves unable to relate with other mothers. She rejects their religion, and when she minimises mourning her son (a revolutionary) for the revolution, defends her pragmatism: “It wasn’t reason that made me weep. But when I stopped, reason had something to do with that.” (10) She is even reconciled to his executioners: “…in being against him, they were against themselves.” And: “There’s not an animal would surrender its young as you do.” (13) The play ends without resolution, but the struggle is ongoing.


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