Justice in The Caucasian Chalk Circle (by Bertolt Brecht)

Themes in The Caucasian Chalk Circle


Brecht emphasizes the importance of justice in the society. He explores the expectations, roles, and failures of law enforcement agencies like the courts, judges, lawyers, political leaders and armed forces who are meant to facilitate the process of justice delivery in the society. Justice is a key component of any stable nation and, as evident in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, its absence could mean the collapse of a nation.

In the prologue the two groups in the dispute over the ownership of the valley are brought together in a discussion presided over by the delegate from the capital, Tiflis. Emphasis is laid on fairness and agreement in order to avoid the recurrence of future disputes. The fruit farmers of the goat herders discuss and amicably reach a resolution to the dispute. When finally it is resolved that the valley goes to the fruit and vine growers, it is done amiably and the agreement is followed by a party to seal the deal.

Justice is also clearly portrayed by the test of the chalk circle. It is decided that Michael’s real mother is the one with the strongest feelings for him rather that his biological mother. Grusha is awarded custody of Michael after proving that she would rather lose him to Natella than tear him apart. Natella Abashwili loses Michael because she had forsaken him for her dresses and she    was after Abashwili’s vast estates to which Michael was heir. These two cases illustrate Brecht’s view of justice regarding redistribution of post-war property; property should go to those who bear good intentions and are ready to sacrifice for it and not the ones who merely claim to own it. This message was meant for the many countries recovering for the many wars around the globe.

Failure of the justice system of country can lead to chaos. Grusinia’s lack of justice results from manipulation by the ruling class, corruption among the judges and other agents of law enforcement, and laws that are tailored to favour the rich and ruling class vis-à-vis the poor. The singer observes that “men won’t do much for a shilling./for a pound they may be willing./for twenty pounds the verdict’s in the sack….”

The fat prince intended to appoint his nephew to be a judge so that he could “swing justice their way”. Judges appointed through nepotism make simpletons that are easily manipulated by their powerful relatives therefore derail the process of justice delivery. When the situation becomes unbearable the weavers revolt against the princes and hang the judge plunging Grusinia into chaos. This situation is mirrored in The Song of Chaos in Egypt sung by Azdak. In the song, peasants, tired with a long war and lack of justice, overthrew the country’s leadership and took over. This a parallel of ‘the golden age’, the two years of civil war during which Azdak preceded as judge. When Azdak takes charge of the court he “uses” the statute book by sitting on it because it has been previously used to deny justice to the poor.

Through Azdak, Brecht conveys several ideals of a justice system of any country. He suggests that justice should be accessible to all regardless of the social status and it should also be free of charge. Azdak is described as the saviour of those who could not afford to buy verdicts because he was “not too holy to be bribed by empty hands”. During his reign, he gives the rich a taste of their own medicine by openly taking their bribes and later ruling against them. He acquitted poor defendants while he punished rich complainants perhaps to illustrate that all should be equal be the law.

Secondly, laws should be flexible in order for them to be adjusted easily with circumstances. This could explain Azdak’s disregard for the statute book. Laws should therefore not be followed blindly nor should they be etched on stone. Judges should make their rulings by looking at individual cases. Azdak, for instance, ruled on cases after looking at circumstances of the offenses committed and offering verdicts that were controversial yet fair. Verdicts should, instead, be given basing on the specific circumstances surrounding an event. He acquits the Doctor because of his generosity to the poor, the old woman because of the suffering she has undergone because for the country, and Grusha for her kindness and love for Michael.

Courts and judges should protect the poor from the rich. Before the civil war, judges and the courts were an instrument used by the powerful to manipulate and exploit the less fortunate. Azdak proceeds to deliver justice to the downtrodden in a manner never witnessed before in the land. His reign is referred to as an era of ‘rough justice’ especially for the poor and vulnerable in society. The singer says this about Azdaks verdicts:

And he broke the rules to save them

At long last the poor and lowly had someone who

Was not too holy to be bribed by empty hands

Azdaks (pg 82).

Brecht does not favour conventional justice because of inflexibility of its laws, and its overlooking of unique circumstance surrounding every case. Also, conventional justice is easily manipulated by the rich because of their capability to hire lawyers.


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