Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 218

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a play by German playwright Bertolt Brecht (10 February 1898–14 August 1956). It was written in 1944 in the final years of World War II as the Nazis were slowly losing territory. Brecht himself, a committed Marxist, wrote the play while living in exile because of fear of persecution by the Nazis due to his radical politics. The play itself is technically an exemplar of modernism and is philosophically grounded in the works of Karl Marx and especially in a belief in the innate virtues of the oppressed peasantry and proletariat.

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By using a frame technique, Brecht deconstructs the illusion of the theater. The frame concerns two quarreling Soviet communes set in the present and the interior or framed play-within-a-play tells a fable concerning a Governor and his wife whose child is left in the care of a peasant Grusha who is the heroine of the play and victim of class and gender oppression. The story of Grusha's eventual triumph is a moral parable showing that the peasant mentality leads to treating people as ends in themselves rather than things to be exploited for profit or power. This moral also has implications, as the Singer argues, for which commune is most deserving of the land based on community values and utility rather than capitalist measures of exploitation.

The Play

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 871

The Caucasian Chalk Circle begins in a ruined village in the Soviet Caucasus shortly after the end of World War II. Workers of two collective farms meet with an expert from the State Commission for Reconstruction to discuss the rebuilding of their valley. While members of the Galinsk goat-breeding kolkhoz want to return to the valley, members of the neighboring Rosa Luxemburg fruit farm intend to use the former grassland to plant orchards and vineyards. With the help of an agronomist, the two groups try to arrive at a solution. The agronomist reminds them of the days when they had to hide in the mountains from the Germans, dreaming of rebuilding the valley together, and provides them with plans for an irrigation project which could increase the land’s fertility tenfold.

In honor of the visiting delegates from Galinsk and the experts, the fruit-growing kolkhoz has invited a famous folksinger, under whose direction a Chinese play called The Chalk Circle will be performed in traditional masks. It is emphasized that the play has some bearing on their problem.

The play takes place in ancient times, when Governor Georgi Abashvili was alive and well and the poor were oppressed. One Easter Sunday, while the governor and his wife are in church, Grusche, the kitchen maid, makes the acquaintance of Simon, a young soldier of the palace guard. A coup by the “Fat Prince” relieves the governor of his duties, and he is bound in chains and taken away. Simon is to accompany the governor’s wife, but before he leaves he proposes to Grusche; she promises to wait for him until he returns.

The governor’s wife is primarily concerned with assuring that the appropriate clothes are taken along; only when the gate is on fire does she leave in haste, abandoning her child, Michael. It is rumored that the governor has been beheaded and that anyone found with his child is in danger. Despite the warning, Grusche takes Michael and flees into the mountains. As time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult for her to care for the child; she leaves him at the doorstep of a peasant woman, hoping that he will be fed and kept safe. On the way from the peasant’s house, however, Grusche meets the prince’s Ironshirts, who interrogate her. Panicked, she runs back to the peasant’s cottage to take the child, but the Ironshirts catch her. As they inspect the crib, Grusche knocks one of them...

(The entire section contains 1918 words.)

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