Chance, Accident and Coincidence in The Mayor of Casterbridge

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Maya Irma, AL85

In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy presents chance, accident and coincidence. Illustrate their significance to the novel as a whole.

        Enthusiasts of Thomas Hardy’s novels know him with his distinctive philosophy of life. That is, the indestructible unseen force, Fate, exists to alter the happiness of a human’s life. Fate resides in nature and may appear as a natural force. Thus, The Mayor of Casterbridge falls under the category of novels of character and environment. Furthermore, Hardy believes that there are different manifestations of Fate. Apart from its guise as nature, it also appears in the apparition of Chance, Accident and Coincidence. Ramji Lall mentioned that there has been an excessive use of chance and coincidence in this novel’s course of events. Hardy has been blamed for this, and no doubt he does sometimes overdo it. But to condemn his use of chance altogether is to misunderstand his view of life. Therefore, this essay attempts to illustrate the usefulness of chance, accident and coincidence to the novel.

        Chance exists in love, a weather-forecast and the goldfinch in the novel. Michael Henchard, the main character whose life is deeply succumbed into the hands of Fate, seeks love through Elizabeth-Jane Newson. Love is a chance whether one will give the affections or sympathy to the other and it depends on the other to appreciate the chance given to lead a fulfilling life. In Casterbridge, Elizabeth apparently gives her utmost devotion and care to Henchard when he discloses the transaction at Weydon-Fair to her and that she is her real daughter. This happens before the revelation of Susan’s letter which holds the truth of Elizabeth’s real father – which is Newson. Upon knowing the truth, Henchard begins to treat Elizabeth with hostility, while withholding the fact that she is not his real daughter. When Elizabeth knows about the truth near the end of the novel, it is her who treats Henchard with indifference when he needs Elizabeth’s love the most. From this illustration, Hardy wants to show that love incarnates Fate. When he has a chance to love Elizabeth as his own daughter and she loves him back, he refuses to. Hence, he dies in dejection in the end. It is arguable that it is with his impulsivity and doggedness as his nature which brings to his downfall when he practices secrecy and deception towards his step-daughter. But, these secrecy and deception derive from his love towards Elizabeth. He cannot afford to lose his affection towards his child hence he “sent [Newson] away with an account of [Elizabeth’s] death” when the captain comes to his cottage in search of his daughter. In this case, Ramji Lall argues that man seeks happiness through love. But this hope is vain because love, so far from being benevolent spirit helping man in his struggle with the inhuman forces controlling human existence, is itself a manifestation of these forces. Love, as conceived by Hardy, is a blind, irresistible power, seizing on human beings whether they will or not, intoxicating in its inception but bringing ruin it its wake. All in all, in the matter of love, it is to choose either to love or not that determines the rise and fall of a character in Hardy’s novel. In Henchard’s case he has no chance to live with love.

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The caged goldfinch in the story can be perceived as the symbol of Henchard’s chance. It seems that Henchard’s life is paralled to the bird’s. He lives in misery, desperately hopes for freedom from the misery and affections from the others. As hopeful Henchard feels when he buys the bird as a present to Elizabeth, as hopeful do the readers of the novel feel when the bird is left abandoned outside Elizabeth’s house. As if Fate plays a role in this incident, Henchard has decided to deposit the bird and the cage “under a bush outside”, where other people will ...

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