Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Michael Henchard, the mayor of Casterbridge and a prosperous corn merchant. In his youth, while drunk, he had sold his wife and child to a seaman. Years later, this information becomes known in Casterbridge; as a result, Henchard is ruined. Too stern and unyielding to resume his friendship with Donald Farfrae, his former manager, the headstrong ex-mayor faces declining fortune. Finally, he is forced to declare bankruptcy and is publicly humiliated during the visit of royalty. At last, broken in spirit, he takes refuge in a shack and dies practically friendless.
Susan Henchard-Newson, Henchard’s wife. A plain, simple woman, she finally tires of her husband’s repeated threats to sell her to the highest bidder. When he offers her for sale, she throws her wedding ring at him and leaves with the sailor Newson, her baby in her arms. Years later, thinking Newson drowned, she returns and remarries Henchard.
Elizabeth-Jane Newson, Henchard’s attractive stepdaughter. A proper young woman, she is attracted to the personable young Farfrae. After the death of Lucetta, she marries the young corn merchant.
Donald Farfrae, a corn merchant in Casterbridge and Henchard’s thriving business competitor. At first Henchard’s good friend and manager, he gradually drifts apart from the mayor when...
(The entire section is 478 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Mayor of Casterbridge Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
It is inevitable, in discussing the tragic themes of this novel, to explore Hardy's characterization of Henchard as a man both greater and lesser than we—the quintessential tragic formulation. In this section we shall reiterate the argument that the protagonist of this modern tragedy is a man of excess passions, of loving too intensely, hating too vehemently, and often the same person. Just as he drinks too much and loves too proudly, Henchard also is capable of powerful, indeed excessive, self-loathing. Most importantly, however, he does not yield long to the temptation to blame others, or even fate, for what he has done. It is his willingness to accept the consequences of his actions that makes Henchard a tragic hero.
Most mature Hardy novels revolve around a single character. Many, like this one, are even named after the single personality who dominates the text. But Henchard cannot be understood or appreciated without the context Hardy supplies through the character Donald Farfrae, in every way Henchard's opposite but in some ways his spiritual son. It is Henchard's intense love for Farfrae that explains its opposite, his passionate hatred for the young man. Although a man of the future and a businessman, Farfrae is by no means an evil or malicious person. His gift of song, his charming voice, not only engage him to the Casterbridge community but endear him to readers as well. Ever ready to sing and dance, Donald is a reminder that, however...
(The entire section is 1276 words.)
A young Scot who arrives in Casterbridge at about the same time as Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, Donald Farfrae becomes Michael Henchard’s business manager. He quickly becomes Henchard’s only trusted friend and, later, his adversary in both business and love.
Hardy draws Farfrae as Henchard’s counterpart in every way. He is physically small, polite and charming, careful and controlled, forward thinking, and methodical. Whereas Henchard propels his fate through moments of rash behavior, Farfrae is cool and calculating in all he does. Although his personality is friendly and engaging, Farfrae maintains a certain detachment from people and events, always considering the possible consequences of his decisions and actions before he makes them. As a result, his path through life is as smooth as Henchard’s is rough.
Farfrae initiates a relationship with Henchard by providing information that is a great help to Henchard in solving a business problem and by refusing Henchard’s offer of payment for the information. Henchard is so grateful and impressed that he talks Farfrae into abandoning his plans to go to America and convinces him to take a job as Henchard’s business manager.
Because Farfrae is more organized and methodical than Henchard, the business prospers under his management. Farfrae is ambitious enough to eventually go into business for himself, though, and this enrages Henchard even...
(The entire section is 2137 words.)