Caucasian Chalk Circle: Metaphor Analysis
The Chalk Circle
The chalk circle is a symbol of truth. Within the circle, all will be revealed. In the play, Azdak cannot come to a rational decision on who should have the child. His methods of justice are not by the Book of Statutes he sits upon. By putting the women in a circle and observing them act towards the child, he can see which woman is best for it. The circle levels the playing ground, removing the advantage of money or rank or history. There are no distractions to the problem or its solution. Azdak lets justice reveal itself.
Similarly, the play opens with another circle of justice, when the members of the two communes sit together to decide who should have the valley. The Expert from the Government Reconstruction Commission is like Azdak, who announces the outcome but does not push; he observes. Within this friendly circle where the communes have equal social status, they can impartially decide the best use of the valley, and it is peacefully and mutually decided for the fruit growers.
This circle symbol is reinforced by the Wheel of Fortune brought up by the Singer in Scene 2. He sings about the downfall of the Governor, who was so secure in his power and assumed he would always have it. “But long is not forever./ Oh Wheel of Fortune! Hope of the people!” (p. 15). This wheel of change is always turning and fits the Marxist message of the play. The Wheel celebrates the historical dialectic where the center of power is always shifting from one group or class to another. It is the hope of the people because eventually, this turning circle of fortune produces justice, as we see in the first scene. The first scene depicts the same landscape where the medieval civil war had taken place that we observe through the rest of the play. In the present time in Scene One, however, there is a socialist society that strives for fairness to all. Looking back, the people perform their own history and see how the Wheel of Justice kept moving until the people were free of their class bondage. When the artificial constructs of society are removed that favor the few, then it is clear who deserves what.
Brecht often criticizes the Christian church as a tool to support the upper classes and keep the lower classes in their places. The historical church subverts the original teaching of Christ who treated all humans with respect. Brecht uses Christianity symbolically in this play, either to criticize religion, or else to transpose Christian rites into secular ceremonies of brotherhood. For instance, critics have pointed out use of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. The sacraments are the sacred ceremonies that convey God’s grace: Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction (Last Rites or the Anointing of the Sick).
In the play the first sacrament performed is the engagement of Simon and Grusha on Easter. He gives her a cross that belonged to his mother and asks her to wait for him. It symbolizes a true marriage. Later, the sacrament of marriage is made a farce when Grusha is forced into marrying Yussup, and he crudely tells her the purpose of marriage is for her to serve him in bed and in the fields. Simon on the other hand, stands by Grusha, “for better or worse.” When Grusha flees with Michael to the mountains, she finally decides he belongs to her and performs a Baptism, saying: “I'll wash you and christen you/ With glacier water” (Scene 3, p. 39). This is not the Church’s baptism but a human bond recognized by Grusha towards the child. At Jussup’s farm in the mountains, the drunken priest represents Holy Orders, and he performs a wedding and offers to do Extreme Unction on the groom. These rites are a parody of religion, but at the same time, they ensnare Grusha into the exploitive social structure that keeps her a slave. She is blackmailed into being respectable for the sake of the child.
Another sacrament is Penance, comically performed by Azdak when he rushes into town with his confession that he let the Grand Duke escape. The sacrament of the Eucharist, or Communion, happens when Azdak shares wine with Granny and the bandit, Irakli.
Finally, Brecht makes the fool Azdak into a type of Christ figure. He is beaten by the soldiers and almost hung, but is “resurrected” by the Grand Duke. The Singer says, “To feed the starving people/ He broke the laws like bread/ There on the seat of Justice/ With the gallows over his head . . . a poor man judged the poor” (Scene 5, p. 80). Azdak is no saint or supernatural figure. He is humane, performing acts humans can do, and is thus both hero and example.
In Scene Two, Governor Abashvili is remodeling and enlarging his palace, in honor of his newborn son, whom he wants to carry on after him. He proposes to knock down the peasant shacks on the estate to do this. Natella says, “All these miserable slum houses are to be torn down to make room for a garden” (p. 11). This will be a garden for the privileged at the expense of the poor. The slum people are of no account as humans. In fact, in Scene Six, Natella complains about their smell, as if they were animals.
Ironically, this same estate is confiscated for the state in Scene Six when Azdak declares it will be given to the people and made into a playground for children. He calls it “The Garden of Azdak” (p. 95). This is a human Eden, and the Singer speaks of it as a brief “Golden Age” (p. 96).
The garden is also evoked in Scene Three as Grusha is fleeing to the mountains. She meets a carriage of aristocratic women from the south, who stay at an inn. The innkeeper describes the beauty of the land to the ladies, saying, “We’re planting fruit trees there, a few cherries” (p. 28). He shows them farther away where the land gets more stony, and that is where the shepherds have their flocks. The ladies say, “You live in a fertile region” (p. 28). He asks what their land is like, and they say they don’t know. They have not paid attention. This scene reinforces the first scene where the fruit growers and goat herders argue over the same valley. The common people have a relationship with the land and are contrasted to the aristocratic ladies who have not paid attention to the land at all. They are just trying to get through it to someplace else.
The Rosa Luxemburg Commune wins the valley in the Prologue because they will make great orchards there, a garden for everyone. Making the land into a garden is the symbol of making the land productive and the scene of social harmony and justice, so everyone can share the fruits. When the Abashvilis try to make a garden for themselves alone, there is only war and misery.
The fact that it is Easter Sunday is thus the first of the many religious themes present in the play. For example, the fact that the Fat Prince is the Governor's brother brings to mind the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.
Grusha goes through ten developmental steps that start in this act. Each of these steps requires that she sacrifice a part of herself to Michael. She does this financially, emotionally, in terms of her promises to Simon, and in terms of her life. The first step occurs when she gives up her money for the child, paying two piasters for milk. The second is when she decides to go back for Michael after leaving him with the peasant woman. The third is when she hits the Ironshirt over the head. Four is when she adopts Michael, "the helpless girl adopted the helpless child." Five is when she is offered the chance to leave the baby with the merchant woman so that she can cross the bridge and save herself. Six is when she risks her life and Michael's life to cross the bridge. The remaining developmental steps occur in the next act.
This is almost a direct comparison of Azdak to Christ. Brecht will continue this comparison in the next act, when Azdak is "killed", "resurrected" by the Grand Duke, and finally disappears.