The Mayor of Casterbridge

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The Ring Symbol Icon
An ancient Roman construction outside the town of Casterbridge, the Ring is an amphitheater structure once used for violence and entertainment. In the context of the novel, the Ring is primarily used for secretive meetings, as the place hides the dealings of characters very nicely. Michael Henchard meets two different women in the Ring, and despite the different natures and times of these meetings, he observes a striking similarity between them. First, he is reunited with his wife, Susan, at the Ring, and he feels great sympathy for her obvious sorrow and reduced circumstances. Second, Henchard meets Lucetta at the Ring, at her request, after she over-hears him reading some of her love letters to Henchard aloud to her husband, Farfrae. Lucetta pleads with Henchard to have pity on her, and to not reveal their past relationship. The Ring symbolizes the importance of secrets and secrecy in this novel, as well as a history of violence and wrongdoing, both in the Roman amphitheater and in Henchard’s life. Numerous plot events depend upon secrets withheld or exposed: Henchard’s cruel selling of his wife, the true nature of Elizabeth-Jane’s parentage, and Lucetta and Henchard’s relationship. The Ring is a venue for, and a physical manifestation of, the secrets that are already held in many hearts in Casterbridge. In addition to functioning as a symbol of secrecy, the Ring symbolizes Henchard’s sympathy and empathy. Henchard, while often proud, jealous, and cruel, takes pity on both the women that he meets at the Ring. Within the space of the Ring, he is able to see the suffering of others, which he has caused. The Ring symbolizes Henchard’s rare, but powerful, ability to empathize and change his mind.

The Ring Quotes in The Mayor of Casterbridge

The The Mayor of Casterbridge quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Ring. 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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The Ring Symbol Timeline in The Mayor of Casterbridge

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Ring appears in The Mayor of Casterbridge. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 10
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...meeting Henchard. The note asks Susan to meet 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,... (full context)
Chapter 11
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Humans and Nature Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...frequently uncover Roman skeletons while digging in the ground. One mark of Roman history is The Ring , a fine amphitheater existing from this earlier civilization. The Ring in Henchard and Susan’s... (full context)
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
Henchard chose The Ring as the meeting location for himself and his long-lost wife. He hopes to maintain his... (full context)
Chapter 35
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
...return the letters to her and writes to him, requesting that he meet her at The Ring that evening. (full context)
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
...a sleepless night after overhearing Henchard read her letters aloud. When Lucetta sees Henchard at The Ring , she marks a change in his demeanor when he sees her. Henchard remembers his... (full context)
Chapter 42
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
From that point onward, Henchard keeps a close eye on Elizabeth-Jane. By hiding in The Ring , he observes the two meet and stop to talk on the Budmouth road. He... (full context)