The Caucasian Chalk Circle Summary
by Bertolt Brecht

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The Caucasian Chalk Circle Summary

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a play by Bertolt Brecht. It features a play-within-a-play as two rival soviet communes vie for a tract of land. 

  • Two soviet communes stage a play to help decide which one of them will inherit a tract of land.
  • The play-within-the-play involves a custody dispute: Grusha has raised Michael since she found him abandoned. Michael's birth-mother, Natella, hopes to use Michael to claim her late husband's lands.
  • The magistrate claims that Michael's true mother will be able to pull Michael out of a chalk circle. Grusha refuses to pull Michael for fear of hurting him, and she is declared his mother.

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Summary

The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht is a play derived from a Chinese story. It focuses on Grusha, who runs away from her home due to a political uprising. She saves and flees with the deceased governor’s child. Two years later, the previous regime is returned to power. The governor’s widow wants a share of her dead husband’s estate—however, the legal beneficiary is the child that Grusha saved. Soldiers, under the widow’s orders, arrest Grusha and present her in court.

The story focuses on the two women who are fighting for the same child. To determine who the real mother is, the judge places the child at the center of a chalked circle and asks the women to try removing the child from the circle. The person who succeeds in taking the child is the real mother. Grusha, who does not attempt to remove the child, wins the case. The judge’s reasoning is that she was afraid of hurting the child and, therefore, opted not to do anything.

Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is Brecht’s most cheerful and charming play, offered as a moral lesson with deference to the techniques of both the Oriental and the Elizabethan theater. Its structure is intricate, and more distanced, or epic, than that of any other Brechtian play. Several plots run through it, all merging at the end.

Plot 1 is set in the Russian province of Georgia, where members of two collective farms meet to resolve a dispute about a tract of land. Plot 2 is a story of flight. The peasant Grusha is forced to flee a Caucasian city as a result of usurpation and revolt. Having saved the abandoned child of the dead governor’s wife, she risks her life for her maternal instinct, passing over dangerous bridges, marrying an apparently dying man (who then revives to plague her), and almost sacrificing her lover, Simon, who is returning from the civil war. After two years, a counterrevolt returns the governor’s party to power, and the governor’s widow claims her estate, which she can obtain only as the mother of the legal heir. Her soldiers find Grusha and the infant and bring them to trial. As the storyteller, who distances the text in epic fashion, sings, “She who had borne him demanded the child./ She who had raised him faced trial./ Who...

(The entire section is 638 words.)