The Mayor of Casterbridge

by Thomas Hardy

Start Free Trial

What is the significance of the title and subtitle of The Mayor of Casterbridge?

Quick answer:

The title and subtitle of Thomas Hardy’s novel are significant because they call attention to the scope of the novel, its primary conflict, and its relatively complex concept of "character."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The title of Thomas Hardy’s 1886 novel is The Mayor of Casterbridge. The subtitle is The Life and Death of a Man of Character. As with many other books, the title is significant because it refers to something that plays a key role in the overall narrative. Michael Henchard is, for most of the story, the Mayor of Casterbridge. In fact, several times, when the narrator writes about Henchard, the narrator doesn’t write “Michael” or “Henchard” but refers to him as “the Mayor” or “Mayor.”

If Henchard had never ascended to the position of mayor, it’s unlikely his terrible history would have bothered him as much. The esteemed position of mayor makes him all the more eager to cover up his past misdeeds. The tension between his high place in the town and his lowly history is what mainly propels the story. The title addresses this central conflict.

As for the subtitle, this is significant because it alerts the reader that they will be following a person's journey until the end of their life. When the story ends, the person’s life will end. Indeed, in the final chapter, Henchard is dead.

As for the “character” part of the subtitle, this is significant because, in a sense, it draws attention to how Hardy’s novel can be read as the story of a specific man’s character. While Henchard engages in an incredibly bad behavior, like auctioning off his wife and daughter, he also engages in some notably admirable behavior. He wills himself to stop drinking and he tries, albeit in an underhanded way, to make things right with Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, even when he finds out that the latter is not his biological daughter.

By including “character” in the subtitle, Hardy might be trying to point out the irreducibility of a person’s traits and behavior. Even a person who does something as sinister as Henchard can still go on to do some good. Thus, “a man of character” is someone who is neither entirely good nor bad.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial