Back To Course12th Grade English: Homework Help Resource
15 chapters | 235 lessons
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James has served as a teaching assistant in humanities and has master's degrees in humanities and interdisciplinary studies.
Have you ever done something that you later regretted? In his 1886 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy set out to examine how a man's choices affect his life in the long run. Set in the early nineteenth-century in Casterbridge, a fictional town in Dorset in southwestern England, Hardy used his unique understanding of the poor and the rich to create the unique plot of The Mayor of Casterbridge. Through summarizing the plot and analyzing the characters, we will look at the ultimate themes of remorse and redemption.
In the opening scene, Michael Henchard arrives at a country fair with his wife and child, looking for work. Henchard and Susan have grown emotionally distant from each other, and Henchard regrets marrying her. At the fair, he gets drunk and complains about his unhappy married life, then offers to sell Susan and Elizabeth-Jane to anyone who will buy them from him. At first, the onlookers assume he is only joking, but Richard Newson takes him up on his offer. Henchard falls asleep, and when he awakes he finds himself alone and is overcome with remorse. He desperately tries to find Newson, Susan, and Elizabeth-Jane, but no one knows where they have gone.
Henchard resolves to make a new start in life. He works hard and gradually becomes an agricultural merchant. His wealth increases, and he is eventually elected mayor of Casterbridge. Henchard never marries, but while staying on the Isle of Jersey, he meets Lucetta Templeman. They have an affair. He would like to marry her, but he is unsure if Susan is still living.
Meanwhile, Susan and Newson, living as husband and wife, move to Canada, where Elizabeth-Jane dies. Susan and Newson have a daughter together; whom Susan also names Elizabeth-Jane. This second Elizabeth-Jane grows up knowing nothing about her mother's marriage to Henchard. When Elizabeth-Jane is eighteen, Newson's ship fails to return from a sea voyage, and it is assumed that he has been lost at sea. Susan becomes convinced that she should try to find Henchard and reconcile with him. Nevertheless, she does not want to disclose the actual nature of their relationship to Elizabeth-Jane, so she tells her daughter only that Henchard is related to them by marriage.
Susan and Elizabeth-Jane return to Casterbridge. Susan meets with Henchard and reveals her identity to him, but she doesn't tell him that his daughter is dead and that Elizabeth-Jane is actually Newson's daughter. Henchard is overjoyed that she and Elizabeth-Jane have come back to him. Henchard and Susan agree not to tell Elizabeth-Jane that he had sold her and Susan years earlier. Henchard marries Susan, whereupon Elizabeth becomes his step-daughter in her own eyes.
Henchard's reputation as an agricultural merchant has been damaged by his purchase of a large load of bad wheat, which he has resold to the citizens of the town. Donald Farfrae, having just arrived at Casterbridge, hears about the bad wheat and suggests a means of processing the wheat so that it will be palatable. Henchard is deeply grateful, and he convinces Farfrae to remain in Casterbridge and become the manager of his business, even though he had already given the position to Jopp.
Susan falls ill and dies, and Henchard inaccurately tells Elizabeth-Jane that he is her father. While going through Susan's papers, however, Henchard discovers a letter that reveals that his daughter Elizabeth-Jane died in babyhood, and that this Elizabeth-Jane is Newson's daughter. Henchard feels conflicted, but he refrains from telling Elizabeth-Jane the truth. He continues to live with her as her father. However, he becomes stern and demanding in his demeanor toward her, and she desires to get away from him.
Farfrae becomes popular in the community, and Henchard, resenting this, fires him. Farfrae opens his own business as an agricultural merchant, in competition with Henchard. Farfrae soon becomes rich and powerful. He is elected mayor. Henchard's fortunes soon decline, and he is forced to declare bankruptcy and sell his house. He has no choice but to become a farm laborer, working for Farfrae.
Meanwhile, Lucetta has moved to Casterbridge in an attempt to reunite with Henchard. She meets Elizabeth-Jane, and the two of them become close friends. Lucetta invites Elizabeth-Jane to come live with her, and Elizabeth-Jane accepts. Before Lucetta can rekindle her old romance with Henchard, she meets Farfrae and falls in love with him. They get married.
Lucetta is afraid that a scandal will occur if the townspeople learn that Henchard had once been her lover. Henchard considers getting his revenge on her by telling Farfrae about their old love affair. Lucetta asks him to have pity on her and allow her to enjoy her new-found happiness with Farfrae. Henchard relents and sends a package of love letters that she had written to him back to her.
Unfortunately for Lucetta, Henchard gives the package to Jopp. Instead of giving them to her, Jopp reads the letters aloud at a tavern. The tavern's patrons decide to humiliate Lucetta and Farfrae, whom they envy for their wealth and prominence. They propose a procession known as a skimmity-ride, which is used to mock a man when it becomes known that his wife loves, or has loved, another man. In a skimmity-ride, effigies of the man and woman are tied to the back of a donkey and paraded through the streets. Farfrae is out of town when the skimmity-ride takes place, but Lucetta witnesses it. She is so humiliated that she has an epileptic seizure and dies.
Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane are both grief-stricken over Lucetta's death. Henchard was still in love with her, even though he resented her for abandoning him for Farfrae. Their mutual sadness brings Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane closer together, and she agrees to come live with him in his humble cottage.
Newson, who is still alive and has in fact become a wealthy ship's captain, arrives in Casterbridge and comes to Henchard's cottage. Henchard talks with him while Elizabeth-Jane sleeps in the next room. Newson tells Henchard that he has heard that Susan has died, but he wants to reclaim Elizabeth-Jane as his daughter. Henchard, afraid of losing the last person close to him, lies and tells Newson that Elizabeth-Jane is also dead. Newson leaves Casterbridge without making any further inquiries. Henchard knows that Newson may question his story and return to investigate. His fears are soon realized when Elizabeth-Jane receives a note from Newson, asking her to meet with him. Henchard knows that his deceit will soon be revealed, and rather than facing Elizabeth-Jane, he leaves Casterbridge and seeks work as a farm laborer elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae fall in love, and Newson helps them plan a grand wedding. Henchard hears about the upcoming wedding and decides to go back, as he misses Elizabeth-Jane terribly. Though he is poor, he buys her a goldfinch in a cage as a wedding present. When he arrives at Farfrae's house for the reception, Elizabeth-Jane refuses to see him, because she is still angry that he lied to Newson in an attempt to keep him from her. Despondent, Henchard leaves Casterbridge yet again, and he dies alone in a cottage in the countryside.
The foremost theme in The Mayor of Casterbridge is regret. Henchard's drunken decision to sell his wife and baby daughter haunts him throughout the rest of his life and poisons his relationship with Susan and Elizabeth-Jane. Even when Susan and Elizabeth-Jane succeed in forgiving him, he can never quite forgive himself. The novel also explores the theme of pride and resistance to change. Henchard's envy of Farfrae's rise to popularity in Casterbridge causes him to end their friendship, and his desire to triumph over Farfrae in their competition as rival merchants causes him to take foolish risks that precipitate his financial downfall.
The Mayor of Casterbridge masterfully explores the psychological dimensions of Henchard's character. Though readers abhor his decision to sell his wife and child, they come to sympathize with him as he seeks to make amends for this rash choice. Readers also recognize in Henchard a realistic portrayal of the dangers of pride and selfishness. His desire for freedom from his family responsibilities causes him to sell his only loved ones, and his jealously of Farfrae's popularity causes him to destroy their friendship. Henchard is a complex character who is a deeply human reminder of the dangers of hubris and self-centeredness.
In this lesson, we covered the characters, plot and analyzed the themes and ideas of The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy's 1886 novel which sought to examine how a man's choices affect his life in the long run. The characters were as follows:
Michael Henchard sells his wife Susan and his daughter Elizabeth-Jane, and his guilt over this decision haunts him for the rest of his life, leading to disastrous consequences in his private life. Henchard rises from poverty to become one of the richest and most prominent citizens of the fictional town of Casterbridge in the real-life county of Dorset. His friendship with Farfrae, which began when Farfrae showed him how to make a load of bad wheat palatable, is destroyed by Henchard's pride and concern over his image in the community. Henchard's many misdeeds finally catch up with him - such as giving Lucetta's letters to Jopp to read aloud at the tavern, or his lie to Newson that Elizabeth-Jane is dead - and he dies miserable and alone as Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane get married.
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Back To Course12th Grade English: Homework Help Resource
15 chapters | 235 lessons
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