The Mayor of Casterbridge

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Restoring Wheat Symbol Analysis

Restoring Wheat Symbol Icon
Donald Farfrae generous offer to show Michael Henchard how to restore the quality of a harvest of bad wheat is the basis of these two characters’ first interaction and subsequent business partnership. The conversation the two men have in the King of Prussia hotel, concerning this process, symbolizes more than the start of a dramatic relationship between these two characters. Susan Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane, Henchard’s long lost family members, overhear this conversation as they are wondering whether or not to approach Henchard again. In this context, the restoration of wheat, symbolizes the restoration of Susan and Michael Henchard’s marriage. Henchard, at first, believes wheat that has gone bad cannot be restored, but Farfrae shows him that there is still hope for improving the quality of his product, although it may never be what it once was. Just so, a wrong from the past is healed as well as it can be when Susan and Michael are reunited and remarried.

Restoring Wheat Quotes in The Mayor of Casterbridge

The The Mayor of Casterbridge quotes below all refer to the symbol of Restoring Wheat. 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 5 Quotes

"If anybody will tell me how to turn grown wheat into wholesome wheat I'll take it back with pleasure. But it can't be done."

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker)
Related Symbols: Restoring Wheat
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard becomes the mayor of Casterbridge and a successful wheat merchant, but his business is criticized one summer when he sells a large amount of rotten wheat to farmers and citizens in Casterbridge. In this scene, Henchard defends his actions, arguing that he cannot change the bad wheat back into wholesome wheat. This is a significant passage because a comment about a literal problem—the rotten wheat—provides commentary on a larger problem: the inability of any person to turn back time. Henchard wished he could turn back time after he sold his wife and daughter. He saw that he had made something that was once wholesome—his family and his marriage—into something rotten. This passage shows his life philosophy, as well as his understanding of wheat. The past cannot be changed, Henchard believes; something rotten cannot be made wholesome again.

This quote also shows Henchard’s rather underhanded business dealings. He is not willing to take the blame or the responsibility for having sold bad wheat, and he will not replace the product he sold with good wheat. He sees that the sale, once complete, is finished, regardless of the outcome for his costumers. Instead, he blames the problem on the impossibility of restoring wheat that has gone by, encouraging others to blame fate, the weather, science—anything other than Henchard himself.


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Restoring Wheat Symbol Timeline in The Mayor of Casterbridge

The timeline below shows where the symbol Restoring Wheat appears in The Mayor of Casterbridge. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
Character Theme Icon
...and his carpetbag, which marks him as a traveler. He overhears Henchard’s final words about restoring wheat and stops to write a note, which he gives to one of the waiters at... (full context)
Chapter 7
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon willing to prove the contents of the note: that he has a method for restoring poor wheat to quality. Farfrae willingly demonstrates the technique with a few grains he has on hand.... (full context)