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"listening to mother for a change": a the mother dramaturgical analysis

Updated: May 5, 2023

The theatrical movement Realism is said to allow its audience to encounter moments where it is possible to forget that what is being watched is merely a staged production of reality. Though he never rejected the effects that seeing oneself in a character on stage can have, Bertolt Brecht believed that an urge to question character oddities would be more effective in prompting audience members to enact political change. If minds are left intellectually disturbed, the acceptance of reality through empathy will cloud less of their objectivity. In The Mother, Brecht is not shy to critique Realism through his manipulation of language to alternate characters’ points of view. As the play directs attention towards the importance of not only knowing but continuously examining one’s place and responsibility in the world, its stylistic decisions craft an uncomfortably encouraging mirror maze.

As early as the opening scene that features the mother and her son, Brecht makes bold use of monologues to establish the first point of view: first-person voice. The protagonist, Pelagea Vlassova, speaks her thoughts directly to the audience rather than to her son. The audience is told of how “He’s sniffing his soup again. It’s the best I can give him. And soon he’ll realise I’m no good to him anymore, just a burden.” despite the previous action in the scene being the son sniffing the soup and then pushing it away in disapproval (3). In Realism, the mother would perhaps be interacting more consistently with her son and discussing her thoughts about him directly with him. Instead, we have Vlassova stating her string of confusion in what feels more like asides. These monologues are often extensive, possibly aiding efforts to mimic one’s thought process during internal conflict. When we are trying to understand our feelings or are puzzled by our surroundings, we tend to space out and retract to speaking to ourselves through the complication. This first point of view could be Brecht’s pursuit to illustrate self-reflection. However, it is still important to question how odd this scene is from real life; how an individual is bluntly stating her feelings, without suffering any consequences from it being in the presence of other individuals.

For the majority of the play, characters speak to one another through dialogue. This is the second point of view: second-person voice. This is used as the norm for the play, illustrating The Mother in “real time”, and the closest Brecht’s stylistic decisions for language get to Realism. Though one conversation in scene 6c does slightly overlap the third point of view: third-person voice. Whilst Vlassova is learning to read, the Teacher confesses that he knows in his heart “it’s all rubbish. Books are rubbish. They just make mankind worse” (25). Here he is clearly diverging from the expected thoughts of an educator, presenting a perspective that does not match up with the ideals that his character would entail. The teacher negatively calls out an issue as if he was in the audience, watching and analyzing himself. The teacher could be interpreted as someone who, despite being committed to academics, is aware of how education and its methods stand in the world. This oddity is perhaps Brecht’s attempt to make the audience seek a third person perspective. Through this blunt self-critique, the teacher could be constructed to represent an idea rather than a personality. This sporadic presentation also amplifies the first-person voice’s call for self-reflection. Through these different dispositions of the characters, the audience’s relationship to the characters also feels dispositioned.

This third point of view, third-person voice, can also be found as early as the appearance of the chorus of revolutionary workers in the opening scene, where the chorus sings about the mother and son’s rocky relationship. Let’s first question why there is even such a sudden dramatic burst into song – is this a culture that has gone unprecedented? Perhaps it could be argued that Vlassova just told the chorus about the problem instead of the audience. But is it not odd that the chorus simply began chanting “Whatever you do/ You’ll still have to struggle/ Your position is bad/ It’ll worsen.” at the mother and son? (4) These sudden bursts of grand performances that seem to discontinue time are closer to the traits of Musical theatre than Realism theatre. In real life, perhaps one will sing to themselves in private to destress, but it is quite uncommon to have those around you perform about your personal troubles. This use of the third point of view once again simulates the public’s judgment of an individual; it is a presentation of ideas. The chorus voices the problems happening in the play as if to reposition the characters in that world. This is also done when a guard interrupts a song by stating that he heard the workers singing. The constant repositioning intends to confuse the audience, making them uncomfortable but continuously aware of where each character continues to stand. This pushes the audience to further question their purpose.

It is important to note that the first point of view, and most distinctively those of the mother, continue to intersect the latter two points of view. Brecht sets the protagonist up to be a character that the audience would seek for empathetic shelter. However, Vlassova is instead an anomaly who spends the play trying to determine where she stands and what her responsibilities are. The mother goes in and out of her train of thoughts, from monologue to dialogue, and adjusts the content of her beliefs and motives as the plot unfolds. Through this technique, the playwright urges the audience to question Vlassova’s fickleness, despite seeming set on her purpose to please her son in her initial monologue. May they wonder whether they need to go through a similar emotional examination themselves.

“The Mother” ends in strong narrations. This is in the third person point of view with the surviving and determined characters speaking right to the audience. The characters are once again repositioned, and this direct address could be interpreted as a direct call for attention and invitation for the audience to join their fight. After constant repositioning, the audience ends as an audience and is presented with an idea to ponder on after the play’s curtain closes.

Brecht strived to show his audience that verbal expression can determine the point of view in which the play is told and interpreted. His rhetorical manipulation makes the flow of The Mother fickle, and in turn confusing and uncomfortable for his audience. Perhaps this is the reality he wants us to live in: a reality where one perspective is not enough. It is through constant reflection and re-disposition will we understand the full scope of a situation and be able to determine the appropriate actions it requires.

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