Caucasian Chalk Circle:Scene 4: In the Northern Mountains
Summary of Scene 4: In the Northern Mountains
For seven days Grusha walks across the glacier until she reaches her brother’s house. She has imagined his warm welcoming of her to his home. Her brother Lavrenti and his wife have just sat down to a meal when their stableman brings Grusha and the child into the house. Lavrenti introduces his wife Aniko. Grusha explains she had to leave Nukha when the Governor was killed. Aniko goes out to see to a cake in the oven.
Lavrenti quickly asks Grusha if the child has a father. She shakes her head, and Lavrenti says they must make up something, because his wife is very religious. Aniko returns and asks Grusha about the child. Grusha says it is hers and then collapses. Aniko starts accusing Grusha of being ill and does not want her to sit down in the house. Lavrenti tells his wife that Grusha is on the way to her husband. They go on eating in front of the starving girl who is not allowed to sit by the fire. Lavrenti goes on inventing a story about how Grusha’s husband is on the other side of the mountain. Grusha says he’s a soldier and then asks to lie down. Lavrenti tells Aniko that Grusha is on the way to her husband’s farm, and he tells Grusha she cannot stay with them long.
Grusha remains through the winter months. She tells Michael that they must be “small, like cockroaches” so that Aniko will let them stay (p. 46). Lavrenti comes into her cold room where Grusha and Michael are wrapped in blankets and says they have been there for six months. He tells her that she has to marry a dying man from the other side of the mountain. That way she will have a home and Michael will be legitimate.
Grusha objects saying she must wait for Simon, but Lavrenti makes her feel she is a burden, unable to work, with her child. He tells her it won’t be a real marriage because the man is dying. She will be a respectable widow. She goes with Lavrenti to meet the dying man’s mother. Lavrenti will the pay the woman 400 piasters dowry for the marriage. When the woman sees the child, she wants more money. Lavrenti pays 200 more piasters so Grusha can stay on their farm for two years after her future husband dies.
The local drunken monk comes to perform the ceremony. The dying man does not look alive in the bed, but his mother answers “yes” for him in the ceremony. The monk then offers to perform Extreme Unction, the ceremony for the dying. The mother says she had to pay too much for the wedding. The neighboring peasants arrive for the wedding feast commenting that they thought Yussup, the farmer, was only faking his illness to avoid going to war, but he appears to actually be dying. As they gossip, it comes out that the Grand Duke has a new army and will return to fight the rebellious Princes. Grusha gives Michael a piece of cake, telling him they are respectable now.
One of the guests mentions that the Persian war is over and that the Shah is now supporting the Duke, his former enemy to get rid of the Fat Prince. The soldiers are coming home, and things will go back to the way they were. Grusha begins to faint when she realizes the soldiers have returned. Yussup sits up in bed when he hears the news that the war is over. He gets up and throws the guests out. The Singer comments on this unfortunate turn for Grusha: “By day there’s the child, by night there’s the man” (p. 54).
Grusha holds out as long as she can, but after a while Yussup demands she perform her wifely duty in bed, and she is sad to have to give in. As time passes, Simon’s image grows fainter in Grusha’s mind. As she is washing linen by a stream one day, Michael plays with the other children. They play they are beheading the Governor (Michael’s real father), and Michael says, “Me too chop head off” (p. 17). He refuses to play the Governor, but pretends to chop off the head of the fat boy (representing the Fat Prince).
Grusha laughs at the children, then sees Simon Chachava staring at her on the opposite bank. He greets her. Grusha is glad and says thank God he has returned safely. They begin speaking of unimportant things, such as the weather, and they tease one another as they used to. He tells her he is now a paymaster in the army. Finally she tells him she can never go back to Nukha because something has happened. She tells him she knocked out an Ironshirt and that she had to change her name. He asks if he has come too late. They stand with the stream between them, staring in silence, and the Singer tells us their thoughts. Simon thinks of the horrors of war he has been through. He sees the child’s cap and asks if she has a child. She says yes, but it is not hers and that nothing has changed between them. Then the Singer tells her thoughts about why she broke her oath for the sake of the child. Neither of them has explained to the other, however, and Simon tells her to throw the cross in the stream as he turns to go. Just then the soldiers come and take Michael away. The Ironshirts take Michael back to Nukha, and she follows. The Governor’s wife wants her child back. The Judge Azdak will try Grusha’s case.
Commentary on Scene 4: In the Northern Mountains
Religion is a target in the play. The comical drunken monk and the hypocritical Aniko, the combination wedding-funeral, and the draft-dodging farmer who marries a woman with a seeming illegitimate child are good satire, but tragic from Grusha’s point of view, for now she has had to break her vow to Simon in order to keep Michael.
The children’s game of playing beheading the Governor is a satirical comment on the past politics of Grusinia, which has now become nothing but a memory among children. It also foreshadows the death of the Fat Prince, which would have already happened during Grusha’s wedding, months before Simon comes to her. At the wedding we learned the foreign war was over, and the former enemy, the Shah of Persia, was going to back the Grand Duke against the Fat Prince, thus restoring the country to its former rule. This sudden reversal has sealed Grusha’s fate. She realizes then that Simon might come back, but she since she could no longer be his, she eventually gives in to being the wife of Yussup. Yussup’s brutal lecture to Grusha on a peasant wife’s duty reflects the injustice of both the political and religious structure of society. A woman is nothing but chattel, he essentially tells her and treats her that way.
When Simon shows up, having been promoted and ready to marry, Grusha is too overcome to explain herself to him. She insists nothing has come between them, but he can see she is married with a child. This is the only time she insists the child is not hers. To everyone else, she has had to say she was the mother to save Michael’s life. Both Grusha and Simon have been through the hell of war but are unable to verbalize it to one another. The Singer’s summary of their unspoken thoughts is poetic and concise. Simon thinks: “My neck was burnt by fire, my hands froze in my gloves . . . “ (p. 59). Grusha thinks: “I had to bend down on the floor for breadcrumbs” (p. 60). The upper classes have wars of power, and the common people have to pay the price.
Yet, Grusha might have run after Simon to explain when the Ironshirts took the child away. Once again, she chooses Michael by following the Ironshirts to Nukha when they take Michael back to his birth mother. Grusha puts herself in danger and now will be tried for kidnapping, but she is unable to leave her adopted child. Though her choices are made from love, each choice creates a worse life for her because she puts her own needs last, as any true mother does. This is a paradox that Brecht highlights, creating suspense as to how Grusha could come out of this dilemma. The play seems headed for tragedy, but it is not an individual’s tragedy as in traditional drama. Brecht’s storytelling is “epic” in that he wants to portray the forces of history. Grusha is all the women stranded by war; Michael is all the abandoned children; Simon is all the soldiers.