The Mayor of Casterbridge - Discussing Henchard's personality, and the reasons for his success and his deterioration in life.

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The Mayor of Casterbridge

Tahsin Pak                                 26th June 2004


Michael Henchard begins the novel by entering Casterbridge ‘with the walk of a skilled countryman’. He starts his life at badly, as he sells his wife to a young gentle sailor called Newson.  His impression changes, as he becomes a wealthy corn merchant and the Mayor of Casterbridge. 25 years later, he ends up with his life in tatters, and eventually dying alone.

In this coursework, I will be discussing Henchard’s personality, and the reasons for his success and his deterioration in life.  Also, I will describe the society which the people live in, emphasising the main reason why the society of ‘Weydon-Priors and ‘Casterbridge’ are so quite and money driven.  

Main Body

The society in ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ is very old-fashioned and stereotypical in certain aspects of the book.  

The Mayor of Casterbridge begins with Henchard, auctioning off his wife to a sailor.  This verifies that in early nineteenth-century England, women of her class in rural districts were regarded as little more than stock to be disposed of at their owners’ liking, such sales were not uncommon.

The importance of a solid reputation and character is rather obvious given Henchard’s situation, for Henchard has little else besides his name. He arrives in Casterbridge with nothing more than tools of the hay-trusser’s trade, through out the course of the novel, Henchard attempts to earn, or to believe that he has earned his position. He is, however, plagued by feelings of his own worthlessness, and he places himself in situations that can only result in failure. For instance, he revels in petty jealousy of Farfrae, which leads to a drawn-out competition in which Henchard loses his position as mayor, his business, and the women he loves. More crucial, Henchard’s actions result in the loss of his name and his reputation as a worthy and honourable citizen. Once he has lost these essentials, he follows the course to a short, pitiful life, resulting in death alone.

The links between chapter 1 and 44 are very similar.  They associate with each other very well, sharing the same emotions and assets.  We see in the first chapter, Henchard and his family enter Weydon-Priors, via the country side. Henchard comes looking for work, where he stops at a furmity tent, where working class people trade goods and belongings.  At this point, Henchard is an alcoholic, as he continues to drink; he bemoans his lot as a married man. If only he were “a free man,” he tells the group gathered in the furmity tent, he would “be worth a thousand pound.” When the sound of an auctioneer selling horses interrupts Henchard’s musings, he jokes that he would be willing to sell his wife if someone wanted to buy her. Susan begs him to stop his teasing, declaring that “this is getting serious. O!—too serious!” Henchard persists nevertheless.

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This leads him to sell his wife and his daughter to a sailor.  Henchard becomes very bitter, and psychologically damaged, he vows never to drink again for 21 years.

Whereas in chapter 44; Henchard makes his way through the countryside and eventually arrives at Weydon-Priors, the very spot where he sold his wife more than twenty-five years earlier.  Evoking the interval where Henchard strolled through the countryside, arriving at the furmity tent, accomplished, and then lost.  

We also see Henchard looking for work in Weydon-Priors as a hay trusser in chapter 1. Later, he is forced to ...

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