The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge

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The Past and Forgiveness Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Theme Icon
Humans and Nature Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Mayor of Casterbridge, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon

Throughout the novel, the darkness of past events haunts individual characters as well as the landscape of the countryside around Casterbridge. The ancient Roman history of the region is referenced multiple times. The Ring, where Henchard meets both Susan and Lucetta is an ancient architectural remnant that once served as an amphitheater for violence and entertainment. In the time period of the novel, the Ring is used only for furtive meetings, primarily of a romantic nature, but the bloody history of the Roman Empire presents a backdrop for the events of the novel. As Henchard and Susan reunite at the Ring, their own past is as filled with pain and wrongdoing as the ancient place in which they stand.

The past in this novel often represents suffering and violence, both physical and emotional. Henchard both desperately desires forgiveness and receives it, in many cases, for his past wrongs. Henchard wishes to earn Susan’s forgiveness for his past action of selling her and their daughter. Guilt drives his desire for forgiveness for past wrongdoing, causing him to ask her to ‘judge [him] by [his] future works” after the couple is reunited. Farfrae forgives Henchard for their business separation and continues to be generous with him. Farfrae purchases Henchard’s home and furniture, but he invites Henchard to live with him and he offers to give him some of his furniture without charge. Abel Whittle forgives Henchard in the final hours of his life, despite Henchard having treated him cruelly while he was Henchard’s worker. Abel is the only one with Henchard when he dies. Henchard’s emotional awareness of his past wrongs, and his need for forgiveness, contribute to his isolation at the end of the novel. Henchard leaves Elizabeth-Jane after lying to Newson, her biological father, and saying she had died. He wishes for Elizabeth-Jane’s forgiveness, but Elizabeth-Jane’s forgiveness comes too late.

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The Past and Forgiveness Quotes in The Mayor of Casterbridge

Below you will find the important quotes in The Mayor of Casterbridge related to the theme of The Past and Forgiveness.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“I, Michael Henchard, on this morning of the sixteenth of September, do take an oath before God here in this solemn place that I will avoid all strong liquors for the space of twenty-one years to come, being a year for every year that I have lived. And this I swear upon the book before me; and may I be stricken dumb, blind, and helpless, if I break this my oath!”

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

In a pivotal moment for his character, Henchard vows to give up drinking any alcohol for twenty-one years after seeing the effect of his drunkenness at the country fair. Henchard acts partly out of regret for his poor treatment of his wife and child, and partly out of embarrassment about his publicly humiliating behavior. Despite these mixed motives, Henchard’s vow is a productive one. He has identified an aspect of his character that has been self-destructive and hurtful to others and he seeks to improve. And indeed, he upholds this vow loyally for twenty-one years because he has made a commitment.

The “solemn place” in which Henchard makes his oath before God is a church, which lends significance to his vow because it occurs in a place that is traditionally the site of praying and seeking repentance. Henchard later asks Susan directly for forgiveness, which demonstrates some true feeling of guilt and desire to repent. However, Henchard, true to his character, is also inclined to exaggerated and theatrical behavior. It is not enough to seek to change himself in private—instead he makes an extreme oath, featuring a full twenty-one years of abstinence from alcohol and the condition that he be struck “dumb, blind, and helpless” if he doesn’t follow his promise. Ironically, Henchard ends the novel in a helpless state, despite having kept his oath, because he returns after twenty-one years to the self-destructive behavior of drinking.


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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.

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.

Chapter 11 Quotes

"Right," said Henchard. "But just one word. Do you forgive me, Susan?"
She murmured something; but seemed to find it difficult to frame her answer.
"Never mind--all in good time," said he. "Judge me by my future works--good-bye!"

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Susan Henchard
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

When Henchard and Susan meet at the Ring, their conversation focuses on the future and how to reintegrate Susan and Elizabeth-Jane into the life of the now-successful Henchard. Henchard does, however, turn to discussion of the past briefly when he asks if Susan forgives him. This moment shows Henchard’s unwillingness to hear an unfavorable answer, as he dismisses Susan's reply and instead requests that Susan “judge” him by his “future works.” But why does Henchard desire Susan’s good opinion at this point in the novel? Henchard is concerned throughout this scene about his current moral character and his reputation as mayor of Casterbridge, and it seems that he cannot bear to have anyone, even Susan, think ill of him. His comment about his “future works” shows Henchard’s belief that the past can be outweighed by the future. Henchard is a complex character, and this novel works to develop his nuances and changes. He argued that the past could not be changed when his wheat was rotten, but is quick to have Susan overlook the past in favor of the future.

For her part, Susan’s murmured response to Henchard’s request for forgiveness shows her conflicted feelings about her reunion with her ex-husband. As with many characters in the novel, Susan is concealing some information (here about her motives for returning to Henchard). Henchard might have foreseen this, but he is too self-focused to be troubled by her lack of a legitimate response to his question.

Chapter 19 Quotes

"Don't cry--don't cry!" said Henchard, with vehement pathos, "I can't bear it, I won't bear it. I am your father; why should you cry? Am I so dreadful, so hateful to 'ee? Don't take against me, Elizabeth-Jane!" he cried, grasping her wet hand. "Don't take against me--though I was a drinking man once, and used your mother roughly--I'll be kinder to you than he was! I'll do anything, if you will only look upon me as your father!"

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Elizabeth-Jane Newson
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

After Susan’s death, Henchard feels he can tell Elizabeth-Jane the truth (as he understands it) of her parentage. When Henchard confesses that he is Elizabeth-Jane’s father, and then tells the story of his sale of wife and daughter to Richard Newson, Elizabeth-Jane begins to cry. Henchard is deeply moved by her tears, pleading with her with “vehement pathos” (expressive, pitiable sadness). He begs for her approval and recognition of the father-daughter relationship between them. As in his reunion with Susan, Henchard focuses on overcoming the woes of the past with promises for the future. He promises to be kinder to Elizabeth-Jane than "he" (either Richard Newson or Henchard's own past self) was, if she will only accept him as her father.

Notably, Henchard’s promises of kindness depend upon Elizabeth-Jane’s behavior: she must treat him as her father. Henchard also asks that she change her last name to his to reflect their relationship. These details show that Henchard sets a lot of value on their father-daughter relationship. He cares deeply for her because she is his daughter. Her worth in his eyes is based on that connection. He does not care about Elizabeth-Jane because of the person she is, independent of that connection. This is due in part to his duty to his family, and in part to happiness he derives from familial love. Henchard’s obsession with Elizabeth-Jane’s care and support escalates at the end of the novel.

I can hardly write it, but here it is. Elizabeth-Jane is not your Elizabeth-Jane--the child who was in my arms when you sold me. No; she died three months after that, and this living one is my other husband's. I christened her by the same name we had given to the first, and she filled up the ache I felt at the other's loss. Michael, I am dying, and I might have held my tongue; but I could not.

Related Characters: Susan Henchard (speaker), Michael Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane Newson
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

After Susan’s death, Henchard finds a letter left among her belongings with the instructions that it should be opened and read on Elizabeth-Jane’s wedding day. Henchard, ignoring these instructions, opens the letter and discovers that Elizabeth-Jane is not his biological child, but a child of Richard Newson's who bears the same name. This passage shows Susan’s anguish at her confession. She “can hardly write” the truth and might have kept to herself, but feels a need to let it be known because she is dying. Susan’s reluctance to admit the truth, and her instructions on the letter, show an awareness of how Henchard will react to the news. She knows he is capable of bitterness and spite, and she must have labeled the letter in order to save this news until Elizabeth-Jane’s wedding day, because only at that point will Elizabeth-Jane be
"free" (because technically "belonging" to her husband) from Henchard’s protection and influence.

Why does Susan confess the truth? The pair has each behaved unfairly in the past and sought forgiveness. The love Susan feels for a child is clear in this quote, as she speaks of the “ache” she felt at the loss of her first daughter. It seems clear that her loyalty and love belongs first and foremost to Elizabeth-Jane, but it does not exclude a sense of familial duty to her husband Henchard.

Henchard bent and kissed her cheek. The moment and the act he had prefigured for weeks with a thrill of pleasure; yet it was no less than a miserable insipidity to him now that it had come. His reinstation of her mother had been chiefly for the girl's sake, and the fruition of the whole scheme was such dust and ashes as this.

Related Characters: Michael Henchard, Susan Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane Newson
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth-Jane has reconciled herself to the truth of her parentage as told to her by Henchard, just as Henchard has learned that she is not, in fact, his daughter. The irony of this—that Elizabeth-Jane should accept him as her father, just as Henchard rejects her because she is not his biological daughter—is not lost on Henchard. He feels the bitterness of a situation that he had longed for as he embraces his daughter, who is not his daughter. Henchard’s bitterness also reveals his motivation for taking in Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, for the “reinstation of her mother had chiefly been for the girl’s sake.” This means that Henchard was eager for Susan’s goodwill and forgiveness primarily because of Elizabeth-Jane, and was eager to support Elizabeth-Jane because she was his biological daughter. He refers to this process of reconciliation as a "scheme," which implies some strategic effort on Henchard’s part. He is partly frustrated in this scene because a plan of his, into which he put effort, is foiled. Henchard’s character is not generous. He expects to get his way when he inputs money and resources.

Henchard places a lot of value on familial “love,” although his feelings about Elizabeth-Jane focus on himself and his needs, which does not seem like a very expansive kind of love. He wants his daughter to be a part of his life, and sees Elizabeth-Jane’s connection to him as part of his identity as a father. He treats her less like an independent person than a possession, and he now feels little affection for her or duty to her without their biological connection.

Chapter 25 Quotes

"I will love him!" she cried passionately; "as for him--he's hot-tempered and stern, and it would be madness to bind myself to him knowing that. I won't be a slave to the past--I'll love where I choose!"

Related Characters: Lucetta Templeman (speaker), Michael Henchard, Donald Farfrae
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

Lucetta appears in Casterbridge after Susan’s death and meets Elizabeth-Jane, as well as Henchard, whom she once loved. At first, Elizabeth-Jane is unaware of the connection between Henchard and Lucetta, but when she comes to understand it she and her father agree for once: Lucetta is duty-bound to Henchard because she confessed her love to him and publically displayed her affection. Lucetta’s feelings change when she meets Farfrae and when she witnesses Henchard’s true character, which she refers to as “hot-tempered” and “stern.” After Henchard forces Lucetta to promise to marry him by threatening that he will otherwise reveal their past relationship, Lucetta must make a pivotal decision.

In this passage, Lucetta is torn between the emotion she feels in the present and her sense of duty to actions in the past. Tension between past and present, in which the past influences the present, is a common motif in this novel. Henchard and Susan feel guilt about the past and let it guide their actions in the present. Lucetta rejects this—throwing away her sense of duty to Henchard—and chooses to follow romantic love for Farfrae. She says she won’t be “a slave to the past,” as she believes that to live according to the past leads to unhappiness. It is certainly true that Elizabeth-Jane, guided by feelings of duty, is unhappy. Lucetta rejects duty in favor of happiness, partly because of romantic love and partly because she sees Henchard’s poor character and feels it would be “madness” to marry him.

Chapter 29 Quotes

Married him?" said Henchard at length. "My good--what, married him whilst--bound to marry me?" "It was like this," she explained, with tears in her eyes and quavers in her voice; "don't--don't be cruel! I loved him so much, and I thought you might tell him of the past--and that grieved me! And then, when I had promised you, I learnt of the rumor that you had--sold your first wife at a fair like a horse or cow! How could I keep my promise after hearing that?”

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Lucetta Templeman (speaker), Donald Farfrae
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

The truth of Henchard’s treatment of Susan in the past is revealed to the occupants of Casterbridge when the furmity-woman is on trial. One consequence of this is Henchard’s further decline in popularity, and another is Lucetta’s secret marriage to Farfrae. Lucetta confesses the truth to Henchard with “tears in her eyes” and a “quaver in her voice.” Her emotions may be the result of fear of Henchard’s reaction, guilt over her actions, or an attempt to gain his sympathy for her plight. She implores him to not be cruel and to attempt to understand that she saw herself released from her promise once she learned the truth about his past.

Lucetta’s motivation for her secret marriage shows in two ways that the past cannot ever be entirely overcome, overlooked, or forgiven. First, she is unable to think that Henchard might have changed in twenty-five years. She sees the actions of his past as a permanent mark of his character. She speaks of his actions in the most horrifying terms, equating his sale of his wife to treating her like a horse or cow. This is an accurate assessment, but one that overlooks Henchard’s later reunion with and kindness toward Susan and Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard’s past has come back to haunt him, preventing him from being with this woman he loves and wants to marry. Second, Lucetta’s secret marriage shows that she believes the past connection between herself and Henchard will mark her unfavorably in the present. She married Farfrae quickly because she worried that he would see her in a negative light if he learned of her past, just as she sees Henchard in a negative light because of his past.

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.

"Michael Henchard have busted out drinking after taking nothing for twenty-one years!"

Related Characters: Michael Henchard
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

The moment Henchard’s twenty-five year oath ends he begins drinking again. Not only does he drink, but he drinks in excess, casting himself into a downward spiral of bitterness and rash decisions. This new behavior is the talk of the town, which once respected its mayor for his notable restraint. This is a key turning point in the novel for a few reasons. First, Henchard’s drinking has already been strongly equated with cruel and rash behavior. Therefore, when he begins to drink again, the reader expects that this self-destructive tendency will cause his fortunes to take a turn for the worse, even though he has already lost a lot. Second, Henchard has been anticipating this moment in recent weeks, whereas he once seemed settled in his habit of abstaining from alcohol. He seeks refugee in alcohol because he is unhappy, and looks forward to drinking as a way of relieving or escaping from his unhappiness. Finally, this quote shows that Henchard, despite years of change for the better because of his oath, cannot escape his past and his character. He returns to his old habits, even though he has lived for as many years as a sober man as he did as a drinking one.

Chapter 38 Quotes

"Now," said Henchard between his gasps, "this is the end of what you began this morning. Your life is in my hands." "Then take it, take it!" said Farfrae. "Ye've wished to long enough!" Henchard looked down upon him in silence, and their eyes met. "O Farfrae!--that's not true!" he said bitterly. "God is my witness that no man ever loved another as I did thee at one time....And now--though I came here to kill 'ee, I cannot hurt thee! Go and give me in charge--do what you will--I care nothing for what comes of me!"

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Donald Farfrae (speaker)
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard attempts to interrupt the proceedings of a formal event greeting a royal personage in Casterbridge, but he is bodily removed by Farfrae, and then he overhears Lucetta speaking ill of him to others. This is the final straw for Henchard who, in anger and bitterness, seeks out Farfrae and attacks him. The two men struggle and Henchard gains the upper hand, but finds that he cannot kill Farfrae. Farfrae says that he knows Henchard has long desired to take his life. This comment interrupts Henchard’s anger because it isn’t true. This is a turning point in Henchard’s understanding of himself: he moves past anger at another to anger at himself. He realizes how much he is to blame for his own situation because he once loved a man he now wants to kill. Farfrae has not changed, but Henchard has changed how he feels about him.

Henchard’s is not generally a sympathetic character, because he brings many of his misfortunes upon himself through self-destructive behavior and cruelty toward others. This quote is a rare moment of vulnerability for Henchard, which shows him in a new light to the reader and evokes more sympathy than usual. Henchard must have been deeply hurt in order to want to lash out against someone he cared for. He cannot overcome his past actions, but he begins to feel a new type of remorse, self-hatred, and self-awareness.

Chapter 40 Quotes

When within a few yards of Farfrae's he saw the door gently opened, and a servant raise her hand to the knocker, to untie the piece of cloth which had muffled it. He went across, the sparrows in his way scarcely flying up from the road-litter, so little did they believe in human aggression at so early a time.
"Why do you take off that?" said Henchard. She turned in some surprise at his presence, and did not answer for an instant or two. Recognizing him, she said,
"Because they may knock as loud as they will; she will never hear it any more."

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Lucetta Templeman
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

Lucetta falls sick after she witnesses the villagers of Casterbridge publically reveal the truth about and mock her amorous past with Henchard. Henchard fearfully awaits news of Lucetta’s condition, only to learn that she has died when the muffler on the door knocker is removed. Henchard’s way of learning about Lucetta’s death is a poignant metaphor for suffering. The knocker was muffled to protect the dying woman from any stressful sounds, but it is removed once “she will never hear it any more.” While alive, Lucetta suffered from external interference—gossip and rumors about her, Henchard’s threats, and the skimmington-ride. She overheard Henchard reading her letters aloud to her husband. What she could hear and witness brought Lucetta much suffering in life, as the knocking of the doorbell might. Once dead, Lucetta won’t be able to hear anymore, neither the door knocker nor any of the vicious rumors that impacted her life.

This passage uses the detail about the sparrows in the street to again bring nature in close relationship to the life and death of humans. The presence of the sparrows, and their calm lack of fear, places them near Lucetta’s death, but unaware of it. Nature is unconcerned with human suffering. At the same time, the sparrows might fear “human aggression,” which shows that humans and nature certainly do impact each other.

Chapter 41 Quotes

He watched the distant highway expecting to see Newson return on foot, enlightened and indignant, to claim his child. But no figure appeared. Possibly he had spoken to nobody on the coach, but buried his grief in his own heart. His grief!--what was it, after all, to that which he, Henchard, would feel at the loss of her? Newson's affection cooled by years, could not equal his who had been constantly in her presence. And thus his jealous soul speciously argued to excuse the separation of father and child.

Related Characters: Michael Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane Newson, Richard Newson
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard Newson arrives in Casterbridge and seeks his daughter Elizabeth-Jane. Newson was not dead, but lost at sea, and has spent a long time searching for his missing family, guided by love for Susan and Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard, overwhelmed to meet him, tells him in a spur of the moment decision that both women have died. Newson’s grief at this news shows the true love he feels for both women. Henchard again exhibits his characteristic rash decisions and his anxiety about these decisions after the fact. Henchard dreads Newson’s return because he has grown close to Elizabeth-Jane and expects her to be a part of his life. He is once again guided by jealousy, which also motivated him in his treatment of Farfrae.

This moment is established as a parallel to Henchard’s discovery of the truth of Elizabeth-Jane’s parentage. In that moment, Henchard had achieved what he wanted—Elizabeth-Jane’s love and loyalty—only to find it lose meaning for him. In this moment, Henchard has found meaning in Elizabeth-Jane’s love and loyalty, only to find out that she could be separated from him. He had her by his side for a long time when he didn’t care to, and now that he cares for her, he may lose her. Like so many other plot twists in Hardy's work, the irony is clear and tragic.

“That performance of theirs killed her, but kept me alive!”

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Lucetta Templeman
Related Symbols: The Effigies
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard realizes that witnessing the effigy from the skimmington-ride has saved him, whereas witnessing the effigy of herself killed Lucetta. This is the type of irony that appears multiple times in the novel: the same event can have the opposite effect for different characters, and characters can completely reverse situations in life. While Hardy is certainly rather heavy-handed in the ironies of his plotting, his characters also witness these ironies within the plot itself: particularly Henchard, as in this passage. Henchard is awed by these ironies, and his reaction is due to his sense that something beyond his control is occurring. Irony often seems like fate because the reversal or change is so dramatic and complete. And yet despite this fatalistic quality of many of the events in this book, there are always other explanations provided for these events, such as the choices characters make or chance events of nature.

Chapter 44 Quotes

Very often, as he wandered on, he would survey mankind and say to himself, "Here and everywhere be folk dying before their time like frosted leaves, though wanted by the world, the country, and their own families, as badly as can be; while I, an outcast, an incumbrance, wanted by nobody, I live on, and can’t die if I try.”

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker)
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard leaves Casterbridge once Elizabeth-Jane learns the truth of her parentage and is reunited with her father Richard Newson. He is friendless and homeless, and, once again, aware of the irony of his situation. In this passage, he points out the irony that many who are loved die before their time, yet he, who is unloved, does not die. This highlights the role of chance and the indifference of nature. Chance guides life and death, rather than some rationale, such as the one Henchard suggests here: that loved people should live and the unloved should pass quietly away. Death is part of nature, as the language of this quote reminds the reader. Henchard compares the deaths of people who pass on before their time to “frosted leaves” that whither and die in the fall. Just as leaves die according to the patterns of nature, and according to the fickle behavior of the weather, so too do people die seemingly without rhyme or reason. The relationship between humans and nature, sometimes one of impact, sometimes one of coexistence, is repeatedly highlighted in the work.

Toward the end of the novel, Henchard is walking through the countryside, just as he was at the beginning of the novel. Once again he is poor, despite having passed through a period of wealth and success. His life has completed a full circle, and this isolation seems to be partly his fate and partly the result of his self-destructive behavior throughout the book.

Chapter 45 Quotes


"That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.
"& that I be not bury'd in consecrated ground.
"& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.
"& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.
"& that no murners walk behind me at my funeral.
"& that no flours be planted on my grave,
"& that no man remember me.
"To this I put my name.


Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Elizabeth-Jane Newson
Page Number: 321
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel ends with Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae seeking out Henchard and finding news of him from Abel Whittle after his death. All Henchard has left behind is a will, in which he cannot bequeath anything—having no possessions, nor offspring—so what he leaves is an absence of things. He asks that nothing be done—that he not be buried, mourned, or remembered. Therefore, this “will” serves the purpose of capturing Henchard’s isolation, loneliness, and despair at the end of the novel. He has been brought to this place through his self-destructive characteristics, through the chance events of nature, and through past cruelties that were not forgiven by others.

But, Hardy suggests, forgiveness is sometimes possible against all odds. Henchard is tended in his last hours of life by Abel Whittle, whom he once treated cruelly. Elizabeth-Jane also forgives Henchard and attempts to find him, although her forgiveness comes too late to be expressed to him during his life.