The Mayor of Casterbridge

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The Second Bridge Symbol Analysis

The Second Bridge Symbol Icon
There are two bridges near the lower part of Casterbridge where folks who are down on their luck—“in love, in business, in sobriety, in crime”— like to stand and reflect. The first bridge is at the end of High Street and normally draws those of lower character, and those less ashamed of their situation, who don’t mind their sorrow being noticed by others. Visitors to the second bridge, which is further along the highway, are often of higher social classes. Henchard, after his secret past has been revealed, and all his money and his home given to his creditors, begins to haunt this bridge. He returns to the bridge after Richard Newson appears in Casterbridge to claim Elizabeth-Jane as his true daughter. While Henchard lies to Newson and says Elizabeth-Jane has died, he knows he cannot keep the secret from her forever and he finds the thought of losing her unendurable. At the second bridge, he walks down a small path to a place in the river called Ten Hatches. As he stands looking into the water, the figure of his own effigy appears below him. The sight of himself seemingly already dead is enough to turn Henchard away from the river and his thoughts of suicide. Both bridges are symbolic of the sufferings in human lives, which may be brought about by chance occurrences or one’s poor decisions, and the way humans respond to hardship. The second bridge is linked to Henchard’s emotional decline, from a position of confidence to a state in which suicide seems desirable. Rivers are always changing, swiftly flowing, and a bridge allows humans to easily cross a treacherous river. A bridge is an appropriate place for one to stand who seeks security or comfort in the face of hardship and change. The suffering individual hopes for a symbolic bridge to carries him over his troubles, as the literal bridge carries him over the river.

The Second Bridge Quotes in The Mayor of Casterbridge

The The Mayor of Casterbridge quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Second Bridge. 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 32 Quotes

"I have heard that you think of emigrating, Mr. Henchard?" he said. "Is it true? I have a real reason for asking." Henchard withheld his answer for several instants, and then said, "Yes; it is true. I am going where you were going to a few years ago, when I prevented you and got you to bide here. 'Tis turn and turn about, isn't it! Do ye mind how we stood like this in the Chalk Walk when I persuaded 'ee to stay? You then stood without a chattel to your name, and I was the master of the house in corn Street. But now I stand without a stick or a rag, and the master of that house is you."

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Donald Farfrae (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Second Bridge
Page Number: 223-224
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard has fallen dramatically: he has lost his role as mayor, his business, his love, and his home. Farfrae purchases Henchard's home and moves there with Lucetta, strangely reversing his and Henchard’s situations. When these two men meet and share a few words on the street, Henchard acknowledges the irony of this reversal of situation and status. Farfrae is kind to Henchard, as he always has been. He asks about Henchard’s plans to leave Casterbridge, and this highlights another reversal in situation between the two men, who once stood on the street discussing Farfrae’s plans to travel on from Casterbridge. Henchard’s acknowledgement of this situation attributes these changes to fate. It is “turn and turn about,” he says, as if the passage of time alone has caused this change in fortunes. He does not admit any fault of his own character in his fall from grace, excluding his bitterness and jealousy, his rash decisions, or his drinking habit that continues to haunt him. His self-destructive tendencies are unacknowledged, and he is left bitter at Farfrae’s rise and his fall.

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Chapter 41 Quotes

In the circular current imparted by the central flow the form was brought forward, till it passed under his eyes; and then he perceived with a sense of horror that it was himself. Not a man somewhat resembling him, but one in all respects his counterpart, his actual double, was floating as if dead in Ten Hatches Hole. The sense of the supernatural was strong in this unhappy man, and he turned away as one might have done in the actual presence of an appalling miracle. He covered his eyes and bowed his head. Without looking again into the stream he took his coat and hat, and went slowly away.

Related Characters: Michael Henchard
Related Symbols: The Second Bridge, The Effigies
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard reaches new levels of despair when he thinks he will lose Elizabeth-Jane to Newson, just as he has grown to depend on her as his only source of happiness. Henchard’s character grows more sympathetic through this relationship: he loves Elizabeth-Jane and begins to see her virtues and value her as a person, but fears he will lose her. Newson’s reappearance emphasizes that Henchard cannot escape from his past. Having once given up his wife and daughter, it seems fated that he will not be able to keep them by his side forever. In his despair Henchard considers throwing himself into the river, but he is confronted with the effigy of himself from the skimmington-ride. The image of himself in the water seems to show him the future. This is what he will look like if he floats dead in the river. This surreal image changes his mind, and effectively saves his life.

The confrontation between man and effigy awakens Henchard from his despair because it seems to him that a miracle has occurred. He understands that the effigy is from the skimmington-ride, but it seems to him more than chance that it would appear in that place at that time. This gives him hope, or at least startles him out of his despair, because it seems that some mysterious force has intervened to protect him. And regardless of whether or not God or Fate has placed the effigy there, it has certainly appeared at that place because of the currents of the river. Therefore, although it seems a miracle to Henchard, the mysterious force at work is most notably nature itself. Nature has helped Henchard, whereas at other points in the novel it has harmed him.

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The Second Bridge Symbol Timeline in The Mayor of Casterbridge

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Second Bridge appears in The Mayor of Casterbridge. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 32
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...their misfortunes. Jopp often stood on this bridge after losing the position as Henchard’s manager. The second bridge is the place for unfortunate souls of a more privileged background. These individuals often stand... (full context)
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Henchard walks to the second bridge and is gazing into the water when Jopp arrives and greets him. Jopp tells Henchard... (full context)
Chapter 41
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Humans and Nature Theme Icon
...her something and the pair returns to Ten Hatches. Elizabeth-Jane sees in the water Henchard’s effigy from the skimmington-ride. Henchard says that the performance of the skimmington-ride killed Lucetta, but saved... (full context)
Chapter 43
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
...That very evening, Henchard secretly leaves town, with only Elizabeth-Jane accompanying him as far as the second bridge . As Henchard travels alone, he wishes he still had Elizabeth-Jane with him, believing any... (full context)