I want to start MY Literature Lesson, today with a confession. I must admit that one of the most confusing parts in teaching ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ comes from the onset – the prologue. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing ‘difficult’ in the mere comprehension of the part (at least I’d like to think not) but the philosophy behind Brecht’s conclusions is what worries me – as a Capitalist.
First of all, the prologue is a simple story that Brecht uses as an introduction and the basis of his main story. The part begins with a dispute between two farming communities – the Goat Herders and the Fruit Farmers. Their case is heard by a delegate from the State Reconstruction Commission. Each group lays claim to the valley that had been taken over by the Russian Army during World War II.
The Goat Herders believe that they have a legal right to own the land since it was, originally, theirs. The Fruit Farmers, on the other hand, feel that they have a moral right to the land because they can put it to better use. Kato, an agriculturalist, shows the Delegate the elaborate plans that the Fruit Farmers have to turn the infertile land to fertile. After, carefully, listening to both parties, the delegate awards the valley to the Fruit Farmers on the basis of the good plans they have for it.
Now, that is exactly, the part that worries me. How do you explain to a Capitalistic audience (my students) why the valley should not be given to the Goat Herders (after all, it was theirs). In our Capitalistic world, things belong to those who, legally, own them – whether by hook or crook. Therefore, the Fruit Farmers have no legal or moral basis to lay claim to the valley. The valley belongs to the Goat Herders, pure and simple. Whether they have good plans or not is not the question, as far as we, Capitalists, are concerned.
Let’s take this example, suppose we have two families, A and B. Family A is very poor with six starving children and family B has plenty of food with no children. Can the man and woman from family B claim the children of family A simply because they can feed and clothe them better? Of course, not. But, Brecht is telling us that, indeed, that is what should happen.
In fact, Brecht, himself, knew the repercussions of his Communistic arguments that he was afraid of releasing this prologue while he was living in America. However, the clever way in which he intertwines his Communistic beliefs with morality make him, truly, one of the greatest writers of the 19th Century.
This brings me back to my earlier question – how do you teach a Communistic concept to a Capitalistic audience? Well, for me, I stick to the moral of the story. I concentrate on the idea that people who make good use of property deserve it. In fact, I even draw parallels to the Bible story of the three servants who were given bags of silver by their master. The two, who invested their shares of the money well, were given more while he who buried his, was sent away empty handed. The moral of that story is – he, who uses what he is given, shall receive more while the one that doesn’t, shall lose even the little they had.
That is, precisely, the reason why Bretch uses a prologue. He, cleverly, uses the prologue to preach his message of morality to his audience before he can deliver his main message. By the time Grusha is awarded the child, the audience does not question Azdak’s decision because Brecht has already converted them to his standards of morality. This also answers our original question, “How do you teach Communism to a Capitalistic audience?” The answer is simple – you don’t. As far as ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ is concerned, you only teach morality instead.
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