Threepenny Novel Summary

  • Last updated on June 30, 2023
Title: Threepenny Novel by Bertolt Brecht

Author: Bertolt Brecht
Title: Threepenny Novel
Publish Date: 1934
Genre: Political Satire, Drama
Page Length: Not specified (novel)


Threepenny Novel, written by Bertolt Brecht in 1934, is a political satire and drama that delves into the corrupt and morally bankrupt society of 19th century London. The story follows the cunning and unscrupulous Macheath, also known as Mack the Knife, as he navigates the treacherous underworld while dealing with a myriad of colorful characters.

Part I:
The novel begins with Macheath, a notorious criminal and leader of a gang, known as the Peachums, who are involved in shady dealings. Mack, as he is commonly referred to, has earned significant wealth and power through his criminal activities. He is also married to Polly Peachum, daughter of Peachums, who disapprove of their daughter's marriage to a criminal.

Mack's luck takes a turn for the worse when he is arrested by the corrupt Chief of Police, Tiger Brown, who also happens to be his old friend. However, Mack's imminent hanging is delayed at the last minute due to the intervention of his group of whores, led by Jenny Diver. They blackmail Tiger Brown, revealing his own illegal activities, and secure Mack's release.

Part II:
Mack's life takes an unexpected twist when he falls in love with Polly's friend and fellow criminal, Lucy Brown. Lucy is the daughter of Tiger Brown, and their relationship causes a stir among the Peachums. Polly, heartbroken by her husband's infidelity, decides to aid her parents in their pursuit of Mack's downfall.

Peachum, an astute and manipulative businessman, hatches a plan to use Mack's own criminal empire to incite chaos among the poor. He orchestrates a riot, exploiting the desperation and frustration of the lower class at their dire living conditions. Mack, caught in the crossfire, becomes a pawn in Peachum's larger scheme.

Part III:
As the chaos escalates, Mack is captured once again by Tiger Brown. This time, however, there is no respite. Mack is sentenced to death by hanging. A gloomy farewell party is organized by his gang members, but they are interrupted by a group of revolutionaries led by Peachum. Mack's execution is halted, and Peachum reveals his true intentions - to use Mack as a symbol of revolution and rebellion against the ruling class.

Part IV:
The revolution gathers momentum, and various groups unite in their fight against oppression. Peachum's plan to use Mack as a revolutionary icon becomes a reality as he draws huge crowds, sparking fear and unease among the elite. Mack, embracing his newfound purpose, makes passionate speeches about the injustices endured by the poor and disenfranchised.

The ruling class, fearing the revolution's momentum, attempts to bribe Mack into abandoning his cause. However, Mack remains steadfast, rejecting their offers and continues to rally the revolutionaries. In the climax of the novel, the revolution reaches its peak as the masses rise up against the oppressive aristocracy.


Threepenny Novel tackles themes of corruption, capitalism, and the exploitation of the lower class by the ruling elite. Brecht's satirical portrayal of society through the lens of Mack and the Peachums highlights how the bourgeoisie manipulate the impoverished for personal gain. The novel also explores the concept of rebellion and revolution as a means of achieving justice and equality.


Threepenny Novel holds great significance in the literary world for its strong critique of society and its exploration of political themes. Through the character of Macheath and the portrayal of a corrupt society, Brecht challenges the prevailing capitalist systems and highlights the inequalities perpetuated by the ruling class.

This novel serves as a reflection on the socio-political context of its time, presenting a scathing commentary on the moral decay and unethical practices prevalent in society. Furthermore, Threepenny Novel showcases Brecht's signature style of epic theater, utilizing satire, alienation techniques, and didactic storytelling to engage and provoke its audience into reflecting on their own complicity in societal injustice.

In conclusion, Threepenny Novel by Bertolt Brecht offers a captivating and critical portrayal of a morally bankrupt society through the lens of its cunning protagonist, Macheath. Through its exploration of corruption, exploitation, and revolution, this political satire of 19th century London remains a relevant and thought-provoking piece that invites readers to question the pervasive systems of power and inequality that continue to shape our world.

Categories: Books