Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 299
The play is set in Georgia, in the Soviet Union near the end of World War II. The protagonist of the play is Grusha, a young woman. The narrator of the story is Arkadi Tscheidse, a singer and storyteller who is renowned in the region; he begins the play by telling us a story about Grusha.
Arkadi talks about The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which creates a play-within-a-play structure. In this story, the coddled young son of the governor, Abashwilli and his wife, Natella, is left behind in a coup that removes the family from power. Grusha comes upon the helpless boy and, after trying to leave him with a poor serf woman, decides that she must care for him herself; as time goes on, she begins to think of herself as the boy's mother and intends to teach the boy to be a kind and conscientious young man. She flees town with the boy, Michael, to keep him safe.
Once the coup is over, Natella seeks to claim back her son, but Grusha will not give him up so easily. Thus, they are forced to go to court, where the character of Azdak comes in. He is a judge who devises a stunt whereby he can determine who deserves to have custody of the boy. Azdak says that Grusha and Natella should put Michael inside a circle they have drawn with chalk and pull on Michael's arms; whomever is able to pull Michael out of the circle will be declared his true mother. Natella begins to pull, but Grusha declines, because she does not want to cause Michael any pain. Grusha is then declared to be Michael's true mother.
So the main characters are Grusha, Arkadi (the narrator), Michael (the boy), Natella (the governor's wife), and Azdak (the judge).
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512
Grusha, a young, attractive, unmarried, helpful kitchen maid in the family of the governor of a Caucasian city. The governor, returning from Easter Mass, is killed in a political uprising. His wife, concerned about fleeing with her elegant dresses, forgets her baby, and the kindhearted Grusha cares for him. Fleeing for safety to her brother’s distant home in the mountains, she protects the child. Grusha’s sister-in-law, concerned about an unmarried girl with a baby, has Grusha married to a supposedly dying man who revives immediately after the wedding. Grusha, however, is still loyal to her Easter morning betrothal to Simon, a soldier. When soldiers take the child back to the governor’s wife, Grusha pleads in court for the child. The governor’s wife needs the son for access to the family estates, but Grusha loves him and is best for him. She wins him and is given a divorce. Her love for Simon also is rewarded.
Azdak (ahz-DAHK) a village scrivener, suddenly elevated, during a time of political chaos, into the role of judge for two years. He is a drunken rascal given to stealing chickens and rabbits. During the political war, he befriended a beggar, sheltering him from the police, only to learn later that it was the grand duke. Azdak, upset at being a traitor to his own class, wants to be tried in court but instead is made judge. His rulings, using a feigned stupidity, reflect sympathy for the poor and weak. When he seems sympathetic to the governor’s wife, Grusha berates him, touching off his guilt for betraying his own class. When the birth mother pulls the child from the chalk circle and Grusha refrains, so as not to maim him, Azdak grants her custody of the child.
Simon Shashava, a soldier and a guard at the palace. He has watched Grusha from behind a bush as she went to the river to do the laundry, putting her bare legs in the water. Simon, ordered to accompany the governor’s wife into exile, first wins Grusha’s promise of marriage, expecting to return in a few weeks. He follows her to her new husband’s home in the mountains and then to court. He is willing to accept the child and marry Grusha.
Georgi Abashwili, a governor for the grand duke who is rather lackadaisical about his responsibilities and in recognizing realities. When the palace is captured after Easter Mass, he is killed.
Natella Abashwili, the governor’s wife, a whining, superficial, self-centered woman concerned more about her dresses than about her child or the danger of the situation. It is clear that she seeks custody of the child primarily to get control of the governor’s large estates.
Michael Abashwili, their child. He is well-behaved and cooperative on the difficult twenty-two-day journey with Grusha. He reciprocates Grusha’s love.
Arsen Kazbeki, a fat, two-faced prince who shows deference to the governor and then engineers the palace revolt and kills the governor.