The Mayor of Casterbridge

by Thomas Hardy
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Discuss the role of chance and coincidence in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Chance and coincidence play a very important role in The Mayor of Casterbridge. To a large extent, most of the main characters attribute the various misfortunes in their lives to blind chance rather than the choices they've made. As such, they are unwilling to take full responsibility for their lives.

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As is often the case in Hardy's works, the characters in The Mayor of Casterbridge are under the impression that their lives are governed by the irresistible forces of blind chance and coincidence. Susan Henchard, for example, believes that chance is capable of bringing her anything except happiness.

Her husband, Michael, is no different. The movements of his mind seem to indicate that he thinks that some strange power, some overriding force, is constantly working against him. As with Susan, it seems that Michael is looking for a ready-made excuse for all his various problems and is not prepared to take responsibility for those actions of his that have led directly to misfortune.

Once again in a Hardy novel, we are confronted with the spectacle of people who firmly believe that the contours of their lives are shaped, to a considerable extent, by chance and coincidence. In some cases, this induces a debilitating torpor; in others, a readiness to heap the blame for adversity and misfortune on cosmic forces of which we know nothing.

To be sure, chance does play a part in the action of the novel. For instance, it is chance that leads Lucetta and Donald Farfrae to meet. But it is their personal choices that turn a chance encounter into a relationship.

From this, we can see that free will still has its part to play—and a very vital part at that—in Hardy's world. It's just that so many of his characters seem incapable of grasping the opportunity to exercise their freedom to make choices and to live with the consequences of those choices.

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