Language and Style
Irony is a situation whereby what happens is the opposite of what we expect. It is a contrast between appearance and reality. There are different forms of irony in literature:
This is also known as sarcasm and it occurs when one says the opposite of what he/she means. Sarcasm is meant to hurt the feeling of a person.
This is a case whereby a situation occurs which is different from what we expect. For example, it is ironical that Azdak goes to the city to be tried and ends up being the judge.
This happens when an ironic situation leads to a funny ending. For example, it is comic irony when Jussup, who is supposed to be dying, suddenly wakes up when he learns that the war is over.
This is when the results of an ironic situation are tragic or lead to death. For example, it is tragic irony when Natella, who is the real mother of Michael, loses her child in court.
This is when the audience or readers of a play have more information regarding the events in the text than some of the characters. For instance, it is dramatic irony that we, the audience, already know that Grusha is married, something which Simon does not know when he returns to look for her.
Other instances of irony are:
- The death of Georgi Abashwili is ironical because even though he is wealthy and has many servants and bodyguards protecting him, they do not protect him from being beheaded.
- It is ironical that the doctors who are supposed to take care of Michael are the first to abandon him when the war breaks out.
- There is irony when the other servants seem to be more concerned about the death of the Governor while his wife, Natella, seems less concerned.
- It is ironical that Grusha is not warmly received when she goes to her brother where she hopes to hide away from the Ironshirts. Instead of protecting her, Lavrenti marries her off to Jussup.
- It is also ironic that Natella runs off forgetting to carry her child, Michael, with her.
- There is Irony in the court when Azdak rules against the Farmers and yet their chicken had been stolen.
- The drunk Monk who conducts the marriage ceremony between Grusha and Jussup has been drinking in the tavern and is drunk throughout the ceremony. This is irony because we don’t expect such behaviour from a religious man.
- Aniko presents herself as a very sensitive and religious but, ironically, she does not seem to care that Grusha is sick. She’s only interested in knowing whether the child has a father.
- There is tragic irony when the Fat Prince suffers the same fate as the Governor. He is beheaded when the Grand Duke comes back to power.
- It is ironical that the Fruit Growing commune is awarded the valley when its real owners are the Goat Herding commune.
- It is also ironic that Natella does not inherit the Governor’s estate and instead, it goes back to the public while the Governor’s garden becomes a public playground for all children.
Satire is a presentation of human folly (weaknesses) in a light, humourous or ridiculous way. Satire involves the treatment of serious societal issues in a comical way. In the text, the following cases are presented satirically.
- Natella’s carelessness that leads to her son, Michael, being left behind is a satirical attack on the materialistic individuals in society who put material possessions ahead of other more important matters like family.
- Azdak’s appointment as judge is a satirical portrayal of the dysfunctional court systems in society. He is neither qualified nor fit to hold the office of judge, yet, he is given the position.
- Azdak’s handling of cases in, his courtroom, are ridiculous to the point of comical. In one instance, he handles two cases at a go, while in another he hears a case while drinking at the tavern. He does not refer his judgments to any written law. Instead of reading from the book of laws to make judgment, he uses it as a pillow for his chair.
- Though the use of a chalk circle is ingenious, it is ridiculous, unorthodox and not based on any written law. Azdak uses this to determine the rightful owner of Michael.
- Satire is also used to present the cowardly nature of Lavrenti. He has to whisper in his own house for fear of being heard by his wife Aniko.
- The wedding of Grusha to Jussup is filled with satire. It is conducted by a drunken monk who has just been fetched from the tavern. The mother-in-law is unhappy about the large number of guests and to make matters funnier, she has to speak on her son’s behalf when exchanging marriage vows.
- When Jussup wakes up, he immediately starts to chase away the guests and complaining about the amount of food that they are being given. This is satirical because it addresses the issue of moral decadence whereby some people in society will do anything to avoid contributing to society.
- The Farmers’ and Ironshirts’ action of beating up Azdak are a satirical portrayal of citizens taking the law into their own hands while the Ironshirts, who are supposed to uphold the law, are joining i
Play within a Play
This is when another play is running within the main play. The story of the Caucasian Chalk Circle itself is a play within another. The three main plays in the text are:
- The play about the Goat Herders and the Fruit Farmers.
In this play, the goat farmers and fruit farmers are disputing over ownership of the valley. A delegate from the capital is sent to arbitrate their case and eventually rules in favour of the fruit farmers. The singer, Arkadi, is invited to entertain the guests after they are all happy about the ruling. The singer chooses to sing to them a Chinese story – the Caucasian Chalk Circle – as a justification of the ruling made by the delegate.
- The play about Grusha and Michael
This play takes us through the struggles that Grusha undergoes in her bid to take care of Michael whose father, the Governor, is killed and mother, Natella, flees to the capital.
- The play about Michael and the other children
In this play, Michael and the other children enact the beheading of the Governor by the Fat Prince. Michael wants to play the role of the Fat Prince much to the displeasure of the others who think he is too small.
This play helps us in understanding the character of Michael as, “a chip off the old block”. He is as authoritative as his own father – Georgi Abashwili. The play also highlights the violent and barbaric nature of society which has been copied by children.
- The play about Azdak as Judge
This play looks at Azdak, the village recorder, and how he encounters the Grand Duke at his home and unknowingly lets him go. He goes to report himself to the Ironshirts in the city hoping that he will be arraigned in court for harbouring and allowing a fugitive to escape. However, when he finds out that the previous judge has been hanged, he is chosen by the Ironshirts as the replacement.
It is important to understand his poor background in order to comprehend his judgments. He declares the poor innocent and finds the rich guilty. He handles cases in a casual manner and never refers to the book of laws. It is, therefore, not surprising that he uses an unconventional way of deciding whom to give the young Michael to.
- The play about Azdak and the Fat Prince’s Nephew
In this play, Azdak takes the part of the Grand Duke while the Nephew plays that of Judge. The play helps us understand the reasons why the Grand Duke and the Princes are at loggerheads. It also exposes the abuse of power, greed, corruption and injustice being perpetuated by the princes on the people of Grusinia. It also exposes the character of the Nephew as incompetent as a judge.
All the plays make significant contributions in the development of the plot, themes, characters and style in the text.
This is when a writer uses words, phrases or expressions in a manner that creates a mental image, picture or figure in the mind of the reader. The writer can use figurative language through the use of similes, personification and metaphors.
This is when one thing is directly referred to as something else. For example;
- Michael is referred to as “the apple of the Governor’s eye” which means he loved him more than anything else.
- Grusha refers to Simon as “pigheaded” (p.22) This means that Simon is stubborn for wanting to put himself in danger by escorting Natella to the capital.
- The soldiers who pursue Grusha to the north are referred to as “bloodhounds”. Bloodhounds are dogs trained to look for people.
- The monk refers to the drunken peasant as “a little drum”. This means that he makes a lot of noise.
- An Ironshirt refers to Azdak as “a queer bird” which means that Azdak is strange/funny.
This is when one thing is likened to another with the use of words such as ‘like’ or ‘as…as…’ Examples from the text include:
- After the Governor is caught and beheaded, one of the servants remarks, “What about us? We’ll be slaughtered like chicken as always.: (p.21)
- When wooing Grusha, Simon asks her, “Is young lady as healthy as a fish in water?”
- When at her brother’s house, Grusha tell Michael, “Michael, we must be clever. If we make ourselves as small as cockroaches, the sister-in-law will forget we’re in the house.
- When Lavrenti finds Grusha and Michael in the workroom, he asks them, “Why are you sitting there muffed up like coach-men, you two?” (p.48)
- Azdak says that the law “is like the spleen. You mustn’t hit – that would be fatal.” He says this to show that if the post of judge is given to unqualified people like the Nephew, it can have dire consequences on the people.
This is when inanimate objects, ideas, animals or characters are given human attributes. These human attributes could be actions, thoughts, feelings, emotions or characteristics. In other words, they are made to behave and act like human beings. Examples of personification in the text include:
- Grusha tells Michael, “You mustn’t be afraid of the wind. He’s a poor thing. He has to push the clouds along the gets quite cold doing it. And the snow isn’t so bad, either Michael. It covers the little fir trees so they won’t die in winter.(p.42)
The wind is personified in the above example.
Juxtaposition / Contrast
This is whereby two people or ideas are put side by side in order for the reader to see the differences. It is used as a means of enhancing dramatic effect. Some of the people/ideas that have been contrasted include:
- There is contrast between the living standards of the Governor and his family with that of his people. When he goes to church, he is met with very many poor people at the church door but instead of listening to them, his soldiers order them to clear the way. (p.14)
- There is juxtaposition of the goat herders and the fruit farmers. They are placed side by side by the delegate who asks each side to explain why they should get the valley.
- Grusha is also contrasted with Natella. While Grusha values Michael more than anything in the world, Natella on the other hand values her clothes, jewelry and shoes more than the child.
- The rich are also contrasted with the poor in the text. While rich people like the Grand Duke, can afford to part with thousands of Piasters (p.64), the poor, such as Grusha cannot even afford to buy milk worth 2 Piasters.
Humour is the creation of incidences, characters or situations that elicit laughter from the audience of a novel, play or short story. Instances of humour can be seen in the following cases:
- When the two doctors in charge of Michael, quarrel over each and every issue – no matter how trivial. Whenever the baby cries, they blame each other over who is responsible. (P.15-16)
- When Natella faints, the two doctors argue over who should take care of her. “Niko Mikadze, it is your duty as a doctor to attend Natella Abashwili…you neglect your duty…” (p.21)
- The two doctors even fight one another in the middle of the catastrophe that has befallen the Governor’s palace. This presents humour that lessens the tension created by the assassination of Georgi Abashwili.
- It is humourous to see the Governor’s wife acting so vain and materialistic when she orders her servants to grab only the ‘essentials’ which end up being her entire wardrobe. “Only essentials! Quick, open the trunks! I’ll tell you what I need…the green one…the one with the fur trimming…Then put him down a moment and get my saffron – coloured boots…need them for the green dress” (p.24-25)
- There is humour when Jussup is asked if he prepared to take Grusha as his wife until death do them part. He is ‘too sick’ to answer and his mother answers for him by saying, “Of course, he is. Didn’t you hear him say ‘yes’?” (p.51)
- It is humourous how Jussup wakes up suddenly much to the amazement of the guests. The humour is compounded by his selfishness when he asks, “How many more cakes are you going to stuff down their throats? D’you think I can shit money?” (p.55)
- It is also hilarious to see the mother-in-law threatening to expose the monk as a drunkard when he discovers that Grusha has a child. “Is there a child? I don’t see a child…you understand? Or it may turn I saw all sorts of things at the tavern.” (p.52)
Humour helps in releasing the tension created by serious occurrences or when subjects are addressing a serious issue. It also contributes in the development of themes such as hypocrisy, materialism, irresponsibility, negligence, vanity and others.
The story of the Caucasian Chalk Circle is largely narrated through the use of songs. The singer, Arkadi, and other characters in the play use songs throughout the text in the following cases:
- The Governor is introduced through a song. (p.13) The song helps in describing how wealthy Georgi Abashwili is and his character. The song also juxtaposes Georgi’s richness with the poverty of his people.
- A song is also used to introduce Simon and Grusha. The song tells us about their relationship.
- The impending attack on the Governor’s palace is foreshadowed by a song. (p.18). This song creates suspense because we don’t know what will happen next.
- The song on p. 20 describes the Governor’s execution. This contributes in plot development.
- A song is used at the end of the first chapter to describe how Grusha decides to take the child, Michael and head for the North.
- The song on p.33 reveals the soldiers’ feelings about leaving their loved ones behind and going to war.
- When Grusha abandons Michael at the home of a peasant she is left with both joy and sadness. These feelings are captured in the song on p. 35
- The song on p.36 encourages Grusha to keep running since the soldiers are closing in on her.
- The song of the rotten bridge depicts the kind of risk that she is willing to take to flee from the Ironshirts and save Michael’s life.
- The first song in part 3 of the text is a song of hope. Grusha hopes that Michael and she will be welcomed warmly by her brother Lavrenti. This song creates irony because she does not get the reception she is anticipating.
- When Jussup wakes up, Grusha is confused because she now has a husband. The songs on p. 56 and 57 reveal her confused state of mind.
- The song on p.63 presents a flashback to the day the Governor was executed and how Azdak had found the Grand Duke in the wood and had hidden him in his hut.
- The singer sings about how Azdak had found and sheltered the Grand Duke but later denounces himself by ordering the policeman – Shauwa – to arrest him. This song helps us understand the character of Azdak as a believer in justice – even if it means him being arrested.
Songs play a key role in character development, plot development and theme development. Without the use of songs, the text would not be complete.
Proverbs and Wise Sayings
Proverbs and sayings are short, witty statements whose meaning is hidden. Proverbs and saying rely on one’s knowledge of metaphors, similes and symbols in one’s community. Proverbs and sayings are usually used to encourage, warn, cajole, ridicule or advice. Some of the proverbs and wise sayings used in the text include:
- When Grusha warns Simon about the danger in accompanying Natella to the capital, he asks, “Isn’t the stabbing dangerous for the knife?” (p.21) He implies that danger lies everywhere and as a soldier, he can protect himself.
- When Grusha accepts Simon’s proposal in a hurry, Simon tells her, “Haste, they say, is the wind that blows down the scaffolding.” Meaning that if the scaffolding (a temporary structure that is used to shelter workers who construct buildings) is blown away, then, the permanent building cannot be built.
- When Michael insists on being the one to ‘cut off the Governor’s head’, Grusha says, “Even the duck is swimmer they say.” (p.58). This means that Michael is as authoritative as his father – the late Governor.
- When Azdak realizes that the Old man is not a beggar, the Old man wants to make a proposition for Azdak not to alert the police. But Azdak is surprised and he remarks, “The bitten man scratches his fingers bloody, and the leech that’s biting him makes him a proposition!” (p.64) This means that the rich mistreat the poor without negotiation but when it’s their turn to suffer, they want to negotiate.
- Even though Michael is not Grusha’s son, she feels like its real mother. The cook alludes to this when she says, “Even a borrowed coat keeps a man warm.” (p.87) Meaning that a child can have the same effect even to people who are not its real parents.
- Natella’s lawyer argues that his client deserves to be given the baby because, “Blood, as the popular saying goes, is thicker than water.” (p.90)
- When Simon thinks that Azdak is demanding for a bribe, he remarks that, “A well can’t be filled with dew, they say.” (p.90) He means that one needs money to satisfy corrupt people.
- When Simon does not seem to realize that Azdak is on the side of the poor, the judge says, “A fool’s worst enemy is himself.” (p.94)This means that one’s foolishness can prevent him from getting what he wants.
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