The Mayor of Casterbridge

by Thomas Hardy

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Student Question

Illustrate the concept of "survival of the fittest" in "The Mayor Of Casterbridge" by Thomas Hardy.

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The Darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest may be garnered from Michael's character flaw: he has a tragically flawed character making him unfit and therefore he will not survive. The main theme of Hardy's novel if the cruelty of blind, arbitrary fate that blasts cruelty through a person's life if one false step is taken, one bad (selfish, mean-hearted, unloving, manipulative, excessive etc.) decision is made. In this sense, Hardy's thematic concern doesn't accommodate the idea of survival of the fittest because that idea has no recognition of external, overpowering, operative fate. Survival of the fittest is an idea that is as internal as fate is external--they are diametrically opposed concepts. In addition, survival of the fittest includes the idea that progeny (offspring) will either not occur because the unfit of the species will not mate of that the offspring will not prosper and thus die before adulthood which guarantees the death of the genetic line. In Hardy's story, Michael successfully sires a daughter who lives and prospers and, in fact, searches for him. However, if the thematic intent of Hardy's novel and the details of genetic survival of the fittest are set aside, and if Hardy's novel is viewed from the perspective of Darwinian social theory, then it can be said that Michael's decline and eventual demise represent Darwinian survival of the fittest: Michael was unfit. Michael did not survive.

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