The Caucasian Chalk Circle

In the Caucasian Chalk Circle, the Governor has a child who is called Michael and his wife is called Natella. The Governor’s brother, the Fat Prince, triggers an insurrection on Easter Sunday. He kills the Governor and forces the Governor’s wife to flee. In her haste, she leaves behind her child. On the other hand, during the coup, Grusha, a kitchen maid has Michael handed to her. She hides the child from the Fat Prince and his soldiers and then flee together, thereby saving the child’s life. Grusha brings him up and does not leave him although they have many difficulties. One day, Grusha and Michael are found by the soldiers and they are forced to back to the city. Both of Natella and Grusha want Michael back. Natella is Michael’s real mother while Grusha brings Michael up. After listening all the arguments and knowing about what Grusha has done to take care of Michael, Azdak, the judge, gives Michael to Grusha and orders Natella to leave by using a Chalk Circle test.

How does Azdak make a decision by using a Chalk Circle? What things are they based on judging it? In this essay, I am going to state the reasons that why Grusha can be the “mother” of Michael no matter they are the real mother of a child or not.

The relationship between Natella and Michael

Natella is the wife of the Governor and is also the real mother of Michael. However, she is incredibly jealous of Michael and she is desperate for attention from her husband. “But Georgi, of course, will only build for his little Michael. Never for me! Michael is all! All for Michael!” (The Caucasian Chalk Cirle, P18) Also, when the Fat Prince has committed a coup, Natella has to run away before she is captured. She arrives with her things and her child Michael. She tells another woman to hold Michael while she packs her clothes. She realizes that she needs help so she makes the other woman put Michael on the ground in order to help her pack. She leaves her child and in order to save her dresses. “Then put him down a moment and get my little saffron-colored boots from the bedroom. I need them for the green dress.” “I’ve got to take this silver dress – it cost a thousand piasters. And that one there, and where’s the wine-colored one?” “Maro, bring the baby! Go and look for Masha. No, first take the dresses to the carriage.” (The Caucasian Chalk Cirle, P24-25)

It seems that Natella loves her clothes more than her son. It is nonsense for a mother to leave her son because of wanting to save her clothes. Also, she orders her maids to help me take care of Michael but not herself. In that situation, it is very easy to be found by the Fat Prince and his armies. If they are found, they will be killed. By leaving Michael behind, we can tell that Natella does not care about his son and does not worry about if his son will be killed.

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The relationship between Grusha and Michael

Grusha and other maids discover that Michael is left on the ground. Although Grusha is told by others that it would be safer to simply leave the child, she places value on human life and to take Michael with her. She knows she will be in danger if she does so, but she insists not to give up Michael. An old woman says, “I tell you, if he had the plague he couldn’t be more dangerous.” Grusha replies, “He hasn’t got the plague. He looks at me! He’s human!” (The Caucasian Chalk Circle, P27)

When Grusha flees with Michael, they face a lot of harsh situation. First, Grusha gives up her money in order to pay two piasters which is a week’s pay for the milk to feed Michael. Second, she decides to go back for Michael after placing in the peasant woman’s house. Third, she hits the Ironshirt over the head when they are found. Four, the chorus sings “The helpless girl adopted the helpless child.” (The Caucasian Chalk Circle, P39) when she finally decides to adopt Michael. Five, she can leave Michael with the merchant woman so that she can across the bridge and save herself, but she does not do so. She crosses the bridge with Michael and she says, “We belong together. Live together, die together.” (The Caucasian Chalk Circle, P41) Six, she comforts Michael in winter. “And the snow isn’t so bad, either, Michael. It covers the little fir trees so they won’t die in winter.” (The Caucasian Chalk Circle, P42) Seven, she denies to Lavrenti that she is not cold because it can make them to stay in her brother’s house for a longer time. Eight, she marries to a man which breaks her promise with Simon who has an engagement with her. Nine, she has sex with Jussup. It makes her loses her virginity and she completes her “wifely duty”. Ten, when she is found by Ironshirts, she is forced to choose between Michael and Simon. At the end, she chooses Michael and loses Simon.

From the above experiences of Grusha, we can tell that Grusha cares about Michael so much although she is not his real mother. She can sacrifice her money, her lover, her virginity, her marriage, her future and even her life for Michael and protect Michael. As Michael’s real mother, she cannot do that much for her son. It is a shame for Natella to treat her son like that while it is very selfless for Grusha to do so.

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Before the judgment of Azdak

Found by the Ironshirts, Michael and Grusha are forced to back to the city as Natella is demanding his return. Grusha and Natella want to have Michael. They have different argument saying that they should deserve to have Michael. In the court, Natella says, “at least there are no common people here, thank God. I can’t stand their smell. It always gives me migraine” and she is looking at Grusha and says, “Is that the creature?” (The Caucasian Chalk Circle, P88) These lines show her impoliteness. As a wife of a Governor, she should not do this to others. If Michael is given to Natella, what would he be in the future? At that time, no one knows who should judge the case until the Grand Duke appoints Azdak to be the new judge.

The reason of both sides to want Michael

For Natella, she wants Michael back because without Michael she cannot take over the former Governor’s estates. Her lawyers say that “It’s significant that the girl herself doesn’t claim any tie of blood between her and the child.” and “The revenue of her estates is blocked, and she is cold-bloodedly told that’s it’s tied to the heir. She can’t do a thing without that child. She canit even pay her lawyers!!” (The Caucasian Chalk Circle, P91-92) It seems that the reason for Natella to get back her son is just for her own benefits. She just cares about if she can get back the estates and money from the former Governor. Does she really care about her son? Does she really miss her son in the past few years? The answer seems to be NO.

For Grusha, she wants to keep Michael who she has brought him up for the past few years. Also, Simon supports her to have Michael. She says, “I brought him up like the priest says “according to my best knowledge and conscience.” I always found him something to eat. Most of the time he had a roof over his head. And I went to such trouble for him. I had expenses too. I didn’t look out for my own comfort. I brought the child up to be friendly with everyone, and from the beginning taught him to work. As well as he could, that is. He’s still very little.” (The Caucasian Chalk Circle, P91) Simon supports what she said by saying he is the father of Michael. We can refer to the former part of my essay. There are many things proving Grusha did do a lot for Michael which are because she cares about Michael and protect him. She did not do it for benefits. If a mother should not think about taking advantages of her child, which Natella did but Grusha did not. And Grusha has the support from Simon. It is very dangerous for Simon to say he is the father of Michael but he did that to show he still loves Grusha and cares about Michael. If Michael can grow up with Grusha and Simon, he may have a good education and have a better life. Although they are not very rich, they love each other so much. I believe they can have a happy life if Michael lives with them.

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The judgment of Azdak

After listening to both sides’ argument, Azdak decides to use a Chalk Circle to test who should have the right to get Michael. He orders Shauwa to draw a circle on the floor by using a chalk. Michael is put in the centre of the circle and both Natella and Grusha have to hold an arm. Azdak tells them the one who can pull the child out of the circle will get him. When it get started, Natella pull very hard while Grusha chooses to let go of him. Azdak determines the true mother of Michael to be Grusha as she cannot pull Michael. Grusha says, “I brought him up! Shall I tear him to bits? I can’t!” (The Caucasian Chalk Circle, P98) Like Solomon and the original Chinese version of Chalk Circle, the mother is the woman who will not hurt her child and see her child get hurt.

Why a real mother cannot get her son? According to the judgment of Azdak, it is because Natella did not act as a good mother, she does not care of her son. She wants his son as he can make her rich. But Grusha who is not the real mother of Michael cares about Michael and she is willing to sacrifice a lot for Michael. She does not want to take any advantages of Michael. Azdak has got the point. The singers sing, “Hear now what the angry girl thought but did not say: Had he golden shoes to wear he’d be cruel as a bear evil would his life disgrace. He’d laugh in my face. Carrying a heart of flint is too troublesome a stint. Being powerful and bad is hard on a lad. Then let hunger be his foe! Hungry men and women, no. Let him fear the darksome night but not daylight!” (The Caucasian Chalk Circle, P96) Azdak understands Grusha at that time. He also thinks Michael will live better with Grusha. That is the best for Michael even Grusha is not the real mother. Azdak puts the morality before law, social utility before legality.


The reason for Grusha can be the mother of Michael instead of Natella is based on the morality rather than a law. The moral is that the child should go to whoever serves him best.

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