Caucasian Chalk Circle:Scene Three: The Flight into the Northern Mountains
Summary of Scene Three: The Flight into the Northern Mountains
Grusha has a brother in the mountains and escapes with Michael to find her brother’s farm. The musicians comment: “How will the merciful escape the merciless/ The bloodhounds, the trappers?” (p. 25). Grusha carries the child in a sack on her back, singing “The Song of the Four Generals,” in which she evokes the folk hero, Sosso Robadkidse. She sees a peasant's cottage and goes to buy some milk for the child. The peasant overcharges her two piasters, the equivalent of half a week’s pay. She does not know how they will get enough food on the way. She had wrapped Michael in a brocade coat worth 1,000 piastras, and seeing a carriage of elegant ladies on the highway puts on the coat and pretends to be a fleeing aristocrat like they are. She joins them as they try to stay at an inn. The innkeeper is charging outrageous prices, and the ladies want Grusha to share the expense. Grusha pretends to be a lady but gives herself away by knowing how to make beds and sweep. They look at her hands and know she is a servant. Thinking she could be a thief, they have her thrown out.
As Grusha goes north on the highway, she is followed by Ironshirts who are tracking the child to kill it. The Corporal and his companion speak crudely and sing a marching song. At the River Sirra, Grusha sees a farmhouse. The peasant woman has milk, so Grusha decides to leave Michael on her doorstep. The woman will be able to hide and feed the child. To make sure he will be taken in, she hides behind a tree to see what happens.
The peasant woman finds the child and takes it into the house. Her husband wants her to give it to the local priest, but she wants to care for it. Grusha thinks Michael is safe and goes in the opposite direction from the house. She runs into the Ironshirts who are chasing her and Michael. The Corporal makes rude sexual comments to her before demanding to know where Michael is. In terror, Grusha rushes back to the cottage where she left the baby.
She runs inside and tells the peasant woman to hide Michael, to claim it is her own child. The woman says she will, but the soldiers scare her. The Corporal intimidates the peasant woman at the door, and she reveals that Grusha left a child on her doorstep. As she is taken outside by one soldier, the Corporal goes in to find the baby. Grusha grabs a log and hits him over the head, knocking him out. She takes Michael and rushes out of the house.
After twenty-two days, she reaches the Janga-Tau glacier and decides the child is now hers. She takes off the expensive linen and wraps Michael in rags to look like a peasant. At a deep ravine there is only a broken rope bridge where one rope has snapped and is hanging down the abyss. Merchants at the edge are trying to grab the broken rope to repair the bridge. Grusha tells them Ironshirts are following her, and she must get across. They tell her she can’t make it; the ravine is two thousand feet deep, and with a baby, it is too dangerous. Singing the “song of the rotten bridge” (p. 39) Grusha crosses, risking their lives. Just as she makes it to the other side, the Ironshirts stand on the opposite shore, and she laughs at them.
Commentary on Scene Three: The Flight into the Northern Mountains
In this scene of Grusha’s flight she meets a cross-section of the people of Grusinia (Georgia), many of whom are fleeing the civil war as she is. The peasant who overcharges for milk blames the war for the high prices. He only looks out for himself and makes money on the crisis. The aristocratic women accept Grusha only when they think she is one of them. The innkeeper is making money on the well-born people who need to stay at his inn at any price. The ladies only have sacks to sleep on, but they still keep up their pretense of being important people. They claim they are not fleeing, only going to their summer residence in the mountains, but they drop hints of their husbands being tortured and killed like the Governor was. Grusha begs their help for the child who is also an aristocrat, but they have no mercy.
The peasant woman who would have kept Michael was not courageous like Grusha and broke down out of fear when the Ironshirts came. Grusha’s knocking out the Corporal means she is now a criminal. She can never go back to her own life. The Ironshirts think it is their duty to be cruel at someone else’s orders and would kill a child because they are told to do it. The merchants at the edge of the ravine have sympathy for Grusha but cannot help her. The merchants’ only reason to get across the bridge is that they have to get somewhere to buy and sell. They don’t understand her desperation until Grusha says, “Ironshirts.” Then, they hide their goods.
The most important moment in the scene is just before Grusha and Michael get to the ravine. She decides the child is now hers, and performs a symbolic baptism with glacial water. When they cross the ravine she sings to him, “The way that I know/ Is the one for your feet/ The bread that I find/ Is all you will eat” (p. 41). She behaves towards him as a real mother would and has taken him on for better or worse, risking not only her life but her appointment with Simon when he comes back from the war, for she can’t go back now.
The scene comments on the injustice of the upper classes. The servant at the inn tells the ladies they should be glad to sleep on sacks instead of in a grave like others of their kind. The scene also reveals Grusha’s courage and pluck, her wit and talent. She mimics the upper class women by making up a story about her rich husband and servants. She does not hesitate to attack the Ironshirt who threatens Michael. She risks her life at the gorge, though she is given a way out when the merchant woman offers to take the child so she can cross the bridge alone. She decides she and the child belong to each other and makes a ceremony of motherhood. Each sacrifice she is asked to make for the child is more extreme than the last, but she does not turn back, and indeed, cannot turn back. She understands her sacrifice as making the two of them belong to each other, and calls Michael, “son.” She tells him that they must bear everything together: “It’s not for us, son/ To choose our ways” (p. 41). This proves a prophecy as Grusha is pushed towards choices she does not want to make, because of Michael.