Analyse the change in character of Michael Henchard throughout the novel, the Mayor of Casterbridge

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Two Sides of the Same Coin

Analyse the change in character of Michael Henchard throughout the novel, the Mayor of Casterbridge

Through the entire novel Michael Henchard, his municipal office providing the book’s eponymous title, portrays a persistent fluctuation of character.  At a glance, we see that he is driven by rage and impetuosity yet; his harsh exploitations uncover a fountain of love deep within his body.  This does not only resemble his ambivalence, but also reinforces the fact that the Mayor of Casterbridge’s actions have either been fuelled by ambition or just led by fate.  Right from the beginning, Thomas Hardy suggests that his tale will revolve around one central character, as he subtitles his book: “The Life and Death of a Man of Character.”  Yet, in this vast world, Henchard, a mere drop in the ocean, has been singled out and conspired against by providence.

In what some say as the prologue of the novel, chapters one and two feature the first twist in Henchard’s life.  The Furmity Scene sees the selling of Susan Henchard to a “sailor, who was unobserved by the rest.”  This is therefore, the first sign of impulsiveness, which overcomes Henchard.  It can also be concluded that his fate had turned sour because the auction was about to end fruitlessly until, at the very last moment, Mr. Newson, by chance had entered the tent “within the last two or three minutes” and agreed to purchase Mrs. Susan Henchard for five guineas.  However, I think that this is not a fair judgement of Henchard’s character, as he was under the influence of alcohol and his taciturnity had turned into drunken fury.  Yet, I turn to the initial reason for Henchard’s attraction to the rum in the furmity.  It is blatantly obvious that Henchard is unhappy.  From the audience’s eyes, Thomas Hardy depicts the lack of communication between husband and wife, and the “silence they preserved.”  From this and Henchard’s primary reactions, it appears that Henchard’s melancholy attitude is due to the fact that he has married young and already fathers a child by the name of Elizabeth Jane.  In his resent and attempt to seek revenge at anything he can think of, Henchard salvages himself by drinking to ease his emotions, but this altogether ends up making him more aggressive than before.

Once again, Henchard’s rash and indecisive manner leads him to “take an oath in this solemn place” (the church) and he will “avoid all strong liquors for the space of twenty years to come.”  Yet this shows that on one side of Henchard’s coin, there is this bitter vehemence, however it can be instantly flipped over to reveal a sense of regret and remorse.  It also implies that Henchard has a strong belief in God and that fact that he swears on the bible suggests that he is moral and religious.  Moreover, the point that he kept his oath for exactly twenty years displays a determined and resolute character.  

Apart from his reflecting sense of temperament, two other forces also pull Henchard.  Like a puppet on strings, Henchard either acts to the strong haul of fate or of ambition.  The first glimpse of ambition is seen when Henchard receives Farfrae’s letter after selling his wife eighteen years before that.  During that period, Michael had earned a reputable position in the community: “The Mayor of Casterbridge.”  Being able to reach such a status proves that Henchard is not only competent, but also capable of meeting his goals in life.  Just before accepting Farfrae’s letter, Michael Henchard was amidst a meeting with fellow council members.  His direct, no-nonsense approach meant that he willingly admitted, “the wheat had turned out badly.”  Also, his instant reaction to the note clarifies that Henchard is still as rash as he used to be nearly twenty years ago.  The actual encounter with Farfrae discloses a commendable effort from Henchard.  He immediately judges him positively.  He believes that if this man (Farfrae) can help him, he must be amiable.  However, Henchard’s sudden liking could be due to the immense similarity between Farfrae and Henchard’s “poor brother – who’s now dead and gone.”

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So believing is Henchard’s character, that when Farfrae had refused his offer to return to his house for better food than “cold ham and ale”, Henchard returned the next morning to persuade Donald to come under his belt as manager of the corn and hay business.  However, when Farfrae was at Henchard’s store, he lightly mentioned what has and will trouble Henchard for much longer: “Should a man turrun against fate?”  As Henchard’s dealings with Farfrae grew stronger and more frequent, Henchard began to unmask his true feelings and unlock stories of the past.  His liking and trust in ...

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