THEMATIC CONCERNS IN CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE a book by Bertolt Brecht


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THEMES FROM THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE

COMMUNISM AND CAPITALISM

Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by state while communism is a political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class wars and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs

In the Caucasian Chalk Circle, Bertolt subliminally alludes to communism as a kind of property ownership. First of all, the two communities’ i.e Rosa Luxembourg and Galinsk exist as groups who have interests in the disputed Luxembourg land.   It is important to regard them as distinct groups and not as an individual since communism propagates for community ownership as opposed to an individual. Secondly, the manner in which the case is handled is for the welfare of the community in extension, a community which is committed to utilizing the resource well. (pg 10-11) In his argument Bertolt opens to light the economic essence of property as opposed to ancestral inclination. Therefore, the disputed piece of land is given to the group that has elaborate plans in utilizing the Rosa Luxembourg farm.

The play of The Caucasian Chalk Circle opens with the description of Governor Georgi Abashwili as ‘He was richer than Croesus.’ The song introduces as to a wealthy government official who ‘had so many horses in his stable, many soldiers in his service, and many beggars on his doorstep…..’ (pg 14) (Note the definition of capitalism.) The Governor Georgi Abashwili has everything yet his subjects wallow in abject poverty. Fascinating enough is the fact that, ‘one servant collects the petitions. Another distributes coins from a purse’ (pg14) while the Governor pays no attention to the cry of the many.

The people on the other hand are more fascinated by the heir to the throne that they temporarily forget their problems. (Pg14-15) As the play progresses, the governor is killed and the fat prince takes over, however the Grand Duke who survived the ensuing assassination resurfaces and takes over his usual position ordering the killing of all princes. Meanwhile, a lowly placed village scrivener- Azdak finds an opportunity to dispense justice as a judge. He finds himself face to face with Natella Abashwili the wife of the late Governor Georgi Abashwili, Natella is in search of her son Michael Abashwili who was taken by Grusha Vashnadze- once a kitchen maid in the governor’s house.

In the trial, Azdak hands over Michael to Grusha and dismisses Natella. In so doing, the late Governor’s estates, which were tied in the name of Michael are handed to the state some to be made playground for children. (page 98) Azdak had just killed capitalist tendencies in Grusinia by returning the wealth to the people who deserved it. If he had handed Michael to Natella, the estates would have been confined to one person-Michael as the will had dictated, but since there was no heir, the estates were then returned to the community.

JUSTICE

The prologue offers amicable solution to the issue of land ownership. The Galinsk receive the land on the grounds that the come up with amicable plans for the utilization of the land. The Rosa Luxembourg on the other hand is told that, in case they need help to start their life in their new land, they can easily as the government.

In the play within a play, the nephew to the fat prince Illo Oberliani declares the ‘Grand Duke’ guilty and should be hanged. The Ironshirts, after conferring among themselves decide to make Azdak the new judge since he is rational despite being a rascal.

In Grusinia, as we can infer from the play, before Azdak, justice was the decision of the mighty. The governor was killed because the princes had the power. The Grand Duke was sort after by the Ironshirts because the princes wanted him dead. (pg 71) Azdak on the other hand brings in a different kind of Justice. His principles do not follow the law but what he deems is fit for the society. He takes from the rich and gives to the poor. He plays along with the corrupt society by accepting bribes openly but dispensing justice as it is.

The following are the cases Azdak handles and the verdict.

  1. DOCTOR vs INVALID, BLACKMAILER and LIMPING MAN – the INVALID accuse the DOCTOR for causing him to get a stroke by treating the patients for free.

BLACKMAILER on the other hand informs the court that, he only wanted to know if the farmer whose name he hides had raped his niece but instead he was given money to pay for his uncles studies.

The LIMPING Man accuses the DOCTOR for operating on the wrong foot.

VERDICT: INVALID was sentenced to a fine of 1000 piasters

The LIMPING MAN as compensation he would receive a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

The BLACKMAILER was sentenced to give half of the proceeds to the court so to keep the name                               of the landowner secret.

  1. INNKEEPER vs STABLEMAN: the STABLEMAN is accused of raping the INNKEEPER’s daughter-in-law –LUDOVICA.

VERDICT: The little roan the INNKEEPER liked to ride to be given to the court.

  1. OLD WOMAN (Granny Grusinia) vs 3 FARMERS, The farmers accuse the Old woman for stealing a cow, refusing to pay rent and stealing ham.

VERDICT: The farmers were to pay 500 piasters each for not believing in miracles.

  1. NATELLA ABASHWILI vs GRUSHA VASHNADZE- NATELLA accuses GRUSHA for taking her child illegally. AZDAK uses the CHALK CIRCLE to determine who the real mother is.

VERDICT: GRUSHA wins the case and keeps the child.

  1. DIVORCE of an OLD COUPLE, Azdak divorces the wrong couple.

In his age as judge Azdak broke the role to salvage the oppressed from the heavy hand of the oppressors, however his duration was short lived. In principle, Azdak disobeyed the written laws and applied the law of natural justice however skewed his judgment was.

RELIGION

The play, The Caucasian chalk circle is a secular version of the biblical Christ story. Brecht tries to parallel the life of Christ and that of Azdak, however, he does not make Azdak that righteous. Many will arguably argue that Azdak is the Robinhood of the time ie he steals from the rich and gives to the poor but that would be a misinformed hypothesis. In his quest to salvage Grusinia azdak applies, most often natural and communist belief: “Whoever can make the best use of resources in order to provide for others deserves to get those resources”

Brecht cleverly begins the play on Easter Sunday. According to the Christian faith, this is the time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But instead of resurrection, there is insurrection; the governor Georgi Abashwili is killed. Furthermore, during the Easter Sunday, people get to see the future Governor, Michael Abashwili. For those who have read biblical stories this represents the rush of shepherd to Bethlehem t see the child in manger, but in his quick wit, Brecht’s child is in fine linen and being closely monitored by two doctors.

Prince Kazbeki (Fat Prince) orchestrates the killing of his brother the governor. This reflects upon the biblical story of Cain and Abel and how their rivalry led to the first murder to be committed on earth. In addition, Brecht uses pun in this lines to confuse the oblivious reader: “And now you don’t need an architect, a carpenter will do.” Notice the use of the word carpenter, for those who understand society at the time of Christ, even before Christ, people studied through apprenticeship. Given Jesus’ father was a carpenter then it is natural that Jesus knew the trade and Brecht, cleverly uses this pun to mock religion.

Furthermore, bertolt employs the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. In the beginning, Grusha and Simon agree to become engaged. The engagement is sealed when Simon hands her a silver chain which represents the Act of Confirmation. Secondly, Grusha when she decides to adopt the child, she washes him “I’ll wash you, son, and christen you in glacier water.” Although this ceremony has lost all the religious fervor, it seals the second sacrament: Baptism. Other sacraments that follow are marriage which is performed by the drunken monk. The monk represents the sacrament of Holy Orders though this is laughable given that the monk was drunk and disorderly in all manner and deed. Lastly, the monk requests to perform extreme unction- a catholic tradition of anointing the seriously sick before they die. The monk is denied by the fact that the wedding had cost too much. Finally, the least sacrament comes when Azdak, a village scrivener detains himself for housing the Grand Duke or the Grand Thief as Azdak calls him. In his truthfulness Azdak allows himself to be detained by shower and taken to court. This act of penance seals our final sacrament of the Catholic Church.

When Joseph took Mary in, according to the Bible, she was heavy with child. Grusha is married to Jussup(Joseph) when she has a child. In both cases, both women were virgins and had children with them. Jussup and Joseph are innocent men who have to live with illegitimate children. Brecht is communicating something to the society here which in the early ages upto the 20thC many societies looked down upon women who had children out of wedlock. These women ended up being shunned by the society. Joseph had decided to let go of Mary silently when he learnt that she was pregnant, Jussup on the other hand wakes up for his sickness to learn that the woman he is married to has a child. In his characteristic way of questioning society, Brecht ponders why society easily accepted a child who was conceived out of wedlock (Jesus) as the son of God but cannot accommodate a few women who find themselves in similar circumstances. It is an absolute mockery to religious people like Aniko to not recognize women like Grusha and accept them in because she has a child who is without a father.

SACRIFICE AND LOVE

The governor loves his son Michael so much that all the estates are tired to Michael’s name. This makes Natella jealousy of Michael and in the presence of the governor, Natella tries to show her love for the son to win the governor’s favour to no end. We come to learn of Natella’s passion when she forgets about the child and struggles with her fine linen and shoes. Which mother, in time of chaos will command the servant to place the child down and rush for her shoes? It is here that we draw the line that Natella was in a loveless relationship with the governor.

Simon confesses his love to Grusha on the Easter Sunday. He proposes to her before going to war. Grusha on her part promises to wait for the soldier and sticks to her promise until circumstances force her to do otherwise.

On that Easter Sunday, when the governor was killed, Grusha steals a child and leaves with the child to the northern mountains. Excuse my using the word steal but this was almost as if she stole him because she never followed trail to try and find the governor’s wife. However, we shall come to that story later. On Grusinian highway, Grusha pays two piasters for a pitcher of milk, two piasters was an equivalent of a week’s pay. She sacrificed all that money to make sure Michael had been fed.

There are several sacrifices Grusha pays for Michael. The first sacrifice has been mentioned in the previous paragraph. The second sacrifice comes when she hits the corporal with wood and runs away with the child. The third sacrifice is when she crosses a delicate bridge. Additionally, Grusha accepts to marry a dying man to ensure that Michael got papers of recognition. The more painful sacrifice comes when she loses her virginity to Jussup. Finally, she denounces Simon and has to go back to Nuka to fight for her child against the real mother.

When she gets the custody of the child Grusha confides in Simon that she kept the child because he was the child of love. That she got the child on the day Simon proposed to her.

To sum up, there is irony in this play where the real mother of the child does not have that motherly attraction to the child as is evident in solomonic wisdom. If the Bible were a fiction book we would have questioned the Wisdom of Solomon in trying to give the child to the woman who stops the guard from slaying the contested child into two pieces.

EFFECTS OF WAR/CORRUPTION/BAD GOVERNANCE

The governor Georgi Abashwili “had so many horses in his stable, many soldiers in his service, and many beggars on his doorstep…..”(pg 14) Georgi Abashwili was a leader who puts his interests before those of his subjects. Despite the suffering of the masses, the governor goes on with life unperturbed. On the day he was slain, the governor was scheduled to feast on goose.

However, his assassination does not make Grusinia a better place, infact, the country gets into chaos. Living standards skyrocket that Grusha has to pay all her savings to get a pitcher of milk for Michael. The Princes on the other hand, pay the Ironshirts less money for the war; procure sickly horses and cheap weapons making Grusinia lose the war. These accusations are given by Azdak during the mock trial where the Fat Prince’s nephew is interviewed for the position of the judge.

Furthermore, we learn of the predicament of Granny Grusinia when three landowners accuse her for stealing a piece of land, ham and a cow. In her eyes we see the suffering of the elderly whose only breadwinners died in war.

Corruption is prevalent in Grusinia. The peasants, on Easter Sunday accuse the Water Inspector for taking bribes, Azdak in the monk trial accuse the Princes for having won the by pilfering the war coffers, Azdak as a judge, accepts bribes openly showing how much the society had sunk into the dirt.

When war breaks out in Nuka, the singer says, “When the house of a great man collapses, many small folks will be crushed under the ruins.” Therefore the death of Governor Georgi Abashwili leads to suffering of many. His servants would be rendered jobless, the prices of food shoots above the roof- Grusha pays 2 piasters for a pitcher of milk among other issues.

We also notice the difference between the poor and the rich, Grusha pays 2 piasters for a pitcher of milk but the Grand Duke is willing to pay Azdak 10,000 piasters for lodging in his house. This is the adage of capitalist regimes. Whilst the poor live under a dollar, the rich eat in luxurious hotels. They do not have problem with money.