The most important theme of The Mayor of Casterbridge clearly concerns the weight and demands of the past. Not everyone has a secret in her or his past comparable with Henchard's, but many people have some element of the past they would like to change, ignore, or escape. Following the initial scenes Henchard seems to have done the impossible. After his brief and frantic search for Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, he takes up his life again with great success. In a brief span of twenty years he settles in the modest town of Casterbridge, becomes its most prominent grain merchant, earns election to the town council and eventually to the mayoralty, and serves the community as a churchwarden.
But as often happens in a tragic play, and Hardy clearly intended The Major of Casterbridge to resemble such a drama, just as Henchard's fortunes seem at their highest point, the forces that will bring him down are already gathering. His former wife, believing her sailor husband has died, brings her daughter to Casterbridge on rumors that he has settled there, only to discover to her delight that he is a prominent citizen. On the eve on his reconciliation with his lost family he forces his great affections on an enterprising young Scotsman, Donald Farfrae, whom he grooms as his protege, his confidant, and in some ways his surrogate son. But as the plot develops, he and Farfrae will become rivals, first in trade, later in citizenship, and eventually for love; as...
(The entire section is 2348 words.)
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The idea of a blind, arbitrary fate is a central theme in Hardy’s fiction. Although this fate is blind, it is not neutral but almost always cruel. It is a force that brings suffering and feels no pity or remorse.
In The Mayor of Casterbridge, blind fate manifests as a series of ruinous coincidences and unforeseeable circumstances. Such coincidences and circumstances seem to conspire against Michael Henchard from the opening scenes. There are two shops offering food at the fair; one clearly advertises that it sells liquor, but the other seems not to do so. Susan, knowing Michael’s weakness for alcohol, steers him to what seems to be the “safer” of the two establishments. But, as fate would have it, the proprietor there sells rum on the sly, and Michael is soon drunk and loudly insisting on his desire to sell his wife.
Next, along comes a coincidence in the person of a man who has both the money and the inclination to accept the offer that Henchard has been unwilling to let drop in spite of attempts by his wife and others to silence him. The man happens to be a sailor who takes Susan to Canada, far beyond Michael’s reach as he searches for her.
And so the tide of fate that will carry Michael inexorably to his tragic end gathers strength. It is not swayed by Henchard’s repentance, by his shame, by his vow not to drink, or by his lifelong efforts to right his wrong. It is as if a...
(The entire section is 595 words.)