The Mayor of Casterbridge


Through Henchard’s life he has risen to become respected by all, but fallen to die alone. Henchard has several character flaws that contributed to the break down of every relationship he had. At the beginning of the novel it is his temper that starts the whole story off. When he takes up drinking again it just speeds up the downward spiral he is on. He is an embarrassment to himself and all that know him.


Henchard’s downfall has been triggered by his own flaw of character or judgement, some mistake or series of mistakes that have serious consequences. Henchard’s rapid decline from mayor to pauper qualifies as such a fall. It is even more of a tragedy since there was so much embarrassment and scandal surrounding his deterioration,


“Everybody else, from the Mayor to the washer woman, shone in new vesture according to means; but Henchard had doggedly retained the fretted and weather-beaten garments of bygone years.”


His ragged appearance at a royal procession shows just how deep he had fallen into depression and oblivion.


Henchard’s lack of self-control worsens each situation such as selling his wife, deciding to hide his past objections, and buying over-priced grain. He is also a very proud man, as he hates to admit defeat, but this soon turns to stubbornness. His poor judgement in dealing with his feud with Farfrae shows what a weak character he really is. Henchard may regret an action, such as selling his wife and daughter, but the never tries to take back anything he has done. Instead, he does something equally reckless in order to make up for his first mistake. For example, he quickly takes Susan back into his life and just as easily admits his guilt when confronted.


All of Henchard’s offensive qualities gradually alienate all those around him. His misfortune begins almost immediately as his mistake is realised; he vows to abstain from alcohol for twenty-one years, “…being a year for every year that I have lived.” So since his self-inflicted punishment is only half hearted, Hardy has sufficiently burdened him with hardships until his death. His own inner faults ultimately bring him down from his high post.


I think that Henchard is being really hard on himself, but he obviously is ashamed of what he has become and doesn’t want anyone to see him. I also think that he doesn’t deserve sympathy because all of his life all he has ever tried to do is become better than everyone else especially Farfrae. He is a very childish man and his life has been a constant battle for first place.


I believe that his reputation was more important to him than his own family. Henchard’s rivalry with Farfrae, confusion over Elizabeth-Jane and his past with Lucetta send him to die alone, ashamed of himself and his past.


Pride is at the centre of his successes as well as his failures. Hardy points out Henchard’s pride throughout the novel, starting with his first description of him. Henchard’s walk is of a skilled countryman and not of a general labourer, “in the turn and plant of each foot there was, further a dogged and cynical indifference personal to himself…” Henchard’s combination of energy and pride results in becoming a prosperous merchant and the town leader. However, the combination also proves self-destructive. He is driven to out do Farfrae, and this leads to the break up of their friendship and partnership, and ultimately to Henchard’s bankruptcy. He cannot accept the truth of Elizabeth-Jane’s parents and becomes distant form her. Also, he cannot allow Lucetta to marry another man. I still have difficulty deciding whether to admire, loathe, pity or condemn Henchard. Is he simply a victim of fate or did he deserve to go through all of the suffering in the novel?


Even in death he could not escape himself. He punishes himself after death by what he asks for in his will,


“That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae not be told of my death, or made to be grieve on account of me.


& that I be not bury’d on consecrated ground.


& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.


& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.


& that no