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.
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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)