The Mayor of Casterbridge

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Five Guineas Symbol Analysis

Five Guineas Symbol Icon
The specific sum of five guineas is used in two significant transactions in the novel: first, this is the amount for which Richard Newson purchases Susan Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane from Michael Henchard at the Weydon-Priors fair. Second, Michael Henchard encloses this sum in a note to Susan when she arrives in Casterbridge eighteen years later. Henchard is aware that by sending this amount to Susan he is, in a symbolic sense, buying her back from Richard Newson. Five guineas is a trivial sum for the lives of two human beings, which should not be treated as commodities. Michael Henchard’s willingness to both sell and buy back his wife and daughter symbolizes his economic perspective on the lives of those around him. Throughout the novel, Henchard relates to his family and his friends in terms of what they can give him. He values people who benefit his business and standing in town and devalues these same people when they do not meet his standards. He is obsessed with how Farfrae can help his business, but then casts off the young man for challenging his authority. His care for Elizabeth-Jane depends on whether or not she is his biological daughter, and he reflects on this relationship in terms of ownership: is she or is she not his? Money changing hands to establish family connections symbolizes Henchard’s twisted perspective on relationships, which he believes are based on ownership and possession.

Five Guineas Quotes in The Mayor of Casterbridge

The The Mayor of Casterbridge quotes below all refer to the symbol of Five Guineas. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Mayor of Casterbridge published in 2003.
Chapter 10 Quotes

"Meet me at eight o'clock this evening, if you can, at the Ring on the Budmouth road. The place is easy to find. I can say no more now. The news upsets me almost. The girl seems to be in ignorance. Keep her so till I have seen you. M. H."
He said nothing about the enclosure of five guineas. The amount was significant; it may tacitly have said to her that he bought her back again.

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Susan Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane Newson
Related Symbols: Five Guineas, The Ring
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard and Susan are reunited through a letter that is brought from Susan to Henchard via Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard responds with a note asking Susan to meet him, and includes with it five guineas. Two important symbols appear in this pivotal passage: the Ring and the five guineas. The Ring is a local remnant of the ancient Roman culture in this part of England. As a landmark site, it is linked to the bloody history of the Romans would invaded England; it is an amphitheater for battle as a form of entertainment. Because of its role as a visual reminder of a painful past, the Ring seems a fateful place for Henchard and Susan to meet and address their own painful past.

The second symbol of the five guineas is acknowledged by Henchard, who remembers that this is the sum Newson paid to buy Susan from him years earlier. By enclosing this amount, Henchard intentionally suggests that he wishes Susan to return to him, that he symbolically wishes to “buy her back.”

The language of Henchard’s note focuses on his commitment to and concern for Elizabeth-Jane. He wants to keep her ignorant of his connection to her, which suggests that he feels guilt over his past wrongs. But he also feels a duty to her and to Susan because of their family connection. This sense of duty seems more prevalent than any feelings of real love or attachment, as the language of his letter to Susan is matter-of-fact, rather than romantic or apologetic. Duty to family also influences Susan when she reaches out to her past husband, once Richard Newson is supposedly dead. 

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Five Guineas Symbol Timeline in The Mayor of Casterbridge

The timeline below shows where the symbol Five Guineas appears in The Mayor of Casterbridge. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
...says the price must be higher, concluding that he won’t sell her for less than five guineas . Susan stands and goes along with her own auction. No one in the tent... (full context)
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
Suddenly a voice from the doorway accepts Michael’s offer to sell Susan for five guineas . A sailor, named Richard Newson, has appeared there as the auction progressed. He walks... (full context)
Chapter 10
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Henchard at eight o’clock that evening at The Ring outside of town. The enclosure of five guineas with the note is a significant sum, indicating Henchard’s act of buying his wife back... (full context)