How does Hardy present his characters in the first ten chapters? To focus on Michael Henchard, Susan Henchard, Elizabeth Jane Henchard and Donald Farfrae.
Hardy uses Nature to frequently identify with the characters and mirrors their actions. Their surroundings shed light on each of their situations and create mystery for the reader to interpret. Each of the characters develops quickly over the initial chapters and in this haste, Hardy exploits the recurring theme of fate, channelled through chance and irony. We only learn more about the characters through pieces of information fed to us as each chapter unveils more information about the characters and their relationships towards eachother.
The negative and mysterious introduction paves the way for the following chapters. Initially, it is clear that the family described is of a lower class as they are "plainly but not ill clad" whilst travelling on foot. The man is described at length with his "…fine figure, swarthy and stern…"yet "…a dogged and cynical indifference." One can infer that Hardy was deliberately giving precedence to this man to depict his masculinity and dominance, as a person and his role the relationship, which is still not clear as to it being a marriage. The man carries a "measured springless walk" implying despondency and weariness. This is followed by their unusual situation unfolding as the man and woman do not regard eachother despite their obvious connection. The young man is being built up - in keeping with the stereotype of his appearance -as headstrong and possible volatile. His wife's meek behaviour as she walks alongside him, “she kept as close to his side as was possible without actual contact” implies his potentially violent nature and her subservience. The reader's sympathies are inclined towards her mild and pathetic persona, as she appears lonely beside her baby to whom she evidently adores; "If any word were to be uttered…whisper of the woman to the child." The soft description of her appearance and the evidence of her feebleness reinforce this view, as it appears she was powerless to fate when it placed her in this situation. "The first phase was the work of Nature, the second probably of civilisation".
Fate plays a strong part in all the character's lives on arrival at the fair where the woman chooses the refreshment tent; "No - no - the other one." This disjointed language demonstrates how unaccustomed she is to taking charge of the situation. It is ironic, as she herself controls her fate. The first time in the chapter where she in left in control with her husband obliging, she takes a wrong path and it could be argued, becomes mistress of her own destiny. It also demonstrates the man's incomplete domination of the marriage.
The natural world identifies itself more conspicuously while Michael announces the auction for the first time, a sparrow flies into the tent, and everyone watches until the sparrow is able to fly away. The sparrow acts as a metaphor for Susan's plight. She is seen as a sparrow: her husband frequently dismisses her complaints as "bird-like chirpings," and everyone in the furmity tent is forced to watch until Susan can escape the tent with the sailor.