The Mayor of Casterbridge

by Thomas Hardy

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What is Elizabeth-Jane's role in The Mayor of Casterbridge?

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What is interesting about Elizabeth-Jane in this brilliant novel is the way that she is depicted as undergoing a massive transformation in terms of her character. When she first enters the novel, returning with her mother to seek the help of a relative sh ehas never met, she is presented as being uneducated, kind and unsophisticated. However, when she arrives at Casterbridge, she improves her character thanks to the position in society that her mother's (re)marriage to Henchard gives her. She reads an incredible amount of books and learns how to dress and deport herself as a lady of that time should. She therefore changes intellectually and socially and her manner of speaking as she exchanges rustic dialogue more more refined city-speak reflects this. This change of course occurs at a challenging time for her, as her mother has jsut died and she has learnt that the man who is now responsible for her is not really her father.

Elizabeth-Jane is a character who suffers, just as Lucetta and Henchard suffer. What is different with her, however, is the way that Elizabeth-Jane confronts this suffering of life. She possesses a tremendous amount of resolve and natural dignity that she exhibits throughout her life. She is able to accept the vicissitudes of life and move on without bemoaning them in a way that Lucetta and Henchard are not able to. One of her purposes then is to act as a foil to these two characters in terms of the way that they face sufferings and disappointments. Henchard, for example, cannot relinquish his unrequited desires and failures and clings onto the past, whereas Elizabeth-Jane is a character who is able to roll with the punches of fate and move on in life.

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