In the book “The Mayor of Casterbridge” written by Thomas Hardy, the character Michael Henchard experiences a dramatic rise to grace and even more dramatic fall from it. He tries to demonstrate how fateful coincidences, character, and temperament act together in life to determine the outcome of a person’s life.
Fate plays a very important part in “The Mayor of Casterbridge”. Thomas Hardy uses the plot of the novel relies on number of coincidences. The key initial event in the novel is the arrival of Newson at the furmity tent as Henchard sells his wife. Farfrae “who might possibly have passed by without stopping” arrives in Casterbridge, just as Henchard is being criticized for the quality of his corn. Henchard brings his fate upon himself for after much persuasion he convinces Farfrae to stay and employs him which is an ironic twist of fate as one day it will be Farfrae who employs Henchard. Henchard, as a magistrate, is in the court on the day when the furmity woman is on trial. This event like so many others is a fateful coincidence that changes Henchard’s life forever. The cruel timings of fate occur many times throughout the novel, right up to the closing chapter when Elizabeth-Jane goes to see Henchard half an hour after he has died.
Even the weather seems to be fatefully against Henchard. Henchard’s plans for the holiday are ruined by rain. Henchard jealous of Farfrae decides to ruin him financially. Henchard is not thinking clearly based on weather prophet’s predictions for rain and encouraged by Jopp, he buys all the grain in Casterbridge. Unfortunately for him, the weather improves and the grain prices fall. As a result, Henchard is ruined by fate and his own foolishness. The weather in contrast aids Farfrae who makes lot of money where Hardy mentions “Meanwhile Donald Farfrae prospered…..a large heap of gold, where a little one had been”. Here, Hardy tries to demonstrate the fate and character both acts together against Henchard which results his downfall.
However, Hardy also tries to emphasize that it is not just fate that causes his downfall. It’s also because of his character and temperament which lead to his downfall. From the first chapter Henchard’s rashness and impulsive character is visible throughout the whole book. He behaves impulsively when he sells his wife, when he dismisses Jopp and misbehave Abel Whittle. Hardy portrays him as a victim of impulsivity.
He is man who is ruled by feelings, not thought and he acts on emotions. Hardy also characterize Henchard as a person who possesses very bad judgment and has a tendency to make the wrong decision, for example believing in Farfrae or selling his wife. The decisions he makes are normally spontaneous and irresponsible.
Hardy also characterizes Henchard as a short-tempered person which is one of his character responsible for his own downfall. This temper causes him to overreact and lose control. Hardy writes “cried Henchard in a savage undertone”. This temper initiate Jopp into seeking revenge against Henchard. Henchard describes his trade with Farfrae as “a tussle of fair buying and selling.” When he loses his temper because Farfrae’s business is succeeding, whereas Henchard’s is declining, Henchard then says, we’ll “grind him into the ground – starve him out … snuff him out”.
Henchard is also very determined and proud man. It is because of this that he refuses to take a room in Farfrae’s house or to claim back his furniture. In many ways he is almost too proud which makes his own downfall seem much worse to him.
Clearly, these characteristics contributed to his downfall. When things are going wrong for Henchard he does not act, he accepts the situations silently, at that time Hardy writes “I am to suffer I perceive”. Even if he had a good character, his ill luck could led to his destruction. If he had a different character, fate might still worked against him. Hardy tries to say that what happens has to happen because of fate and no one can stop that. He writes “Susan, Farfrae, Lucetta, Elizabeth–all had gone from him, one after one, either by his fault or by his misfortune”.
Although, through out the novel, Thomas Hardy demonstrates the life of man who is suffered by his ill fate and character, he also portrays the life of self-made man who rose from hay trusser to mayor. Despite his many faults, he must does have some admirable qualities. Henchard stay away from alcohol for twenty-one years as a form of self-punishment. When he became bankrupt, he face his creditors instead of ran away from them.
Here one of his creditor remarks “I have never met a debtor who behaved more fairly”. When Henchard’s life crashes around him he accepts the situation and returns to being a simple hay-trusser. This is a very admirable attitude. Examples throughout the book also show Henchard to be gentle, courageous, hardworking, kind and fair but in many cases a very unlucky man.
Finally, it is a fine distinction between fate and character and they are very often intertwined. Fate and character coexist in the novel. They are dependent on each other. It is a combination of character and destiny that cause Henchard’s downfall. After twenty-one years Henchard walks back along the same path he travelled many years before. Still alone and with nothing to show for all his pain and suffering. He makes mistakes but experiences great suffering as a result. He dies a lonely isolated man, a warning to us all, of defect in character and ill-fate.
Courtney from Study Moose
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