The climax of The Caucasian Chalk Circle takes place in a courtroom, as a rather unconventional judge named Azdak employs a very unusual method of determining who should get custody of a small child. Brecht portrays Azdak as a madcap iconoclast who accepts bribes from the wealthy but often lets poor, downtrodden defendants off the hook in favor of prosecuting those who have sinned or broken the law in other, less obvious ways. Thus, justice in this play is not always by the books, and Brecht uses Azdak’s unorthodox approach to administering justice to show that justice—and not necessarily the law—should be prized above all else.
Azdak, the slightly kooky judge, is the character whose political views seem to most closely resemble Brecht’s own: Azdak believes in taking from the rich and giving to the poor, and in honoring justice even if it means subverting the law. Azdak is the arbiter of justice in the world of the play, and his character’s arc is the clearest example of this theme in action. Azdak—who is neither just nor unjust as an individual—is appointed judge in Nuka over the Fat Prince’s nephew, and immediately begins running his court rather like a funhouse. Azdak, during each case he hears, pads his judge’s chair with a “booster”—at the start of each hearing, he selects his worn copy of a statute book as the object he will sit upon. He puts it underneath his bottom, and in this way makes the silent statement that statutes and legal precedents are beneath him. He feels that justice by the book, so to speak, is inadequate, as the laws contained in the statute book would force him to punish individuals who are already punished daily by systemic inequality. Justice, to Azdak, means correcting this inequality in whatever way he can, by ruling in favor of the downtrodden and attempting to level the playing field on which the rich and the poor approach him in court.
Although Azdak regularly accepts bribes from wealthy plaintiffs, he almost always rules in favor of the poor—or at least in favor of serving justice, even when those who have brought the case before him cannot see what true justice means. For instance, when an elderly woman who believes she has been blessed with a series of miracles is charged with theft, it becomes clear that the “miracle” objects which have been appearing in her home overnight have been stashed there by a wily but desperate bandit hoping to take advantage of her old age and ignorance. Rather than charging the woman or the bandit, Azdak fines the plaintiffs for “godlessness” and refusing to believe in miracles, knowing that to sentence the elderly woman or the desperate bandit would be a great disservice to true moral justice.
Azdak is the closest thing to a stand-in for Brecht himself in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Azdak’s “radical” approach to justice, and to ensuring that the voices of the poor and downtrodden are not erased in favor of appeasing the rich, earns him great renown throughout the land. At the end of the play, Azdak, having exonerated Grusha and taken away Natella’s wealth, invites all present in court to dance. While they swirl around him, he stands alone, “lost in thought.” Similarly, Azdak stands alone in the world of the play, a singular figure whose dedication to justice is, to many, difficult to understand or pin down. Azdak’s insistence on singlehandedly attempting to mitigate the inequalities that the poor or lower-class individuals who come before him in court must face each day mirrors Brecht’s desire for a society in which justice and righteousness reign, and society is free of the social and economic inequalities which enable the corrupt to act unjustly with impunity.
Justice and Injustice ThemeTracker
Justice and Injustice Quotes in The Caucasian Chalk Circle
“As the poet Mayakovsky said: ‘The home of the Soviet people shall also be the home of Reason!’”
“O blindness of the great! They go their way like gods, great over bent backs, sure of hired fists, trusting in the power which has lasted so long. But long is not forever. O change from age to age! Thou hope of the people!”
“Know, woman, he who hears not a cry for help but passes by with troubled ears will never hear the gentle call of a lover nor the blackbird at dawn nor the happy sigh of the tired grape-picker.”
“Fearful is the seductive power of goodness!”
“If you don’t treat it with respect, the law just disappears on you.”
AZDAK: “I’ve noticed you have a soft spot for justice. I don’t believe he’s your child, but if he were yours, woman, wouldn’t you want him to be rich? You’d only have to say he wasn’t’ yours, and he’d have a palace and horses in his stable and beggars on his doorstep and soldiers in his service. What do you say—don’t you want him to be rich?”
Grusha is silent.
ARKADI: “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.”
“You, you who have listened to the story of the Chalk Circle, take note of what men of old concluded: That what there is shall go to those who are good for it. Children to the motherly, that they prosper, carts to good drivers, that they be driven well, the valley to the waterers, that it yield fruit.”