The morning sun awakens Michael Henchard the next day. He groggily recalls the events of the previous evening, as he discovers his wife’s wedding ring in the grass and the bank notes in his pocket. Michael emerges from the tent into a beautiful September morning. The gypsies and other visitors to the area are still sleeping, so he leaves Weydon unobserved. About a mile away, he stops, leaning upon a gate, to reflect on his predicament.
The wedding ring and the five guineas serve as physical reminders of the events of the previous evening. Now Henchard possesses two different “things” than he possessed the evening before. He leaves Weydon unseen, which reflects his feelings that something went wrong in a shameful, even if he is unwilling to feel or admit guilt.
Henchard worries that he might have revealed his own name the previous evening. He is both surprised and angered by Susan’s willingness to go along with her own sale, and he realizes that she must, in her simplicity he believes, except the sale as a binding exchange. He rails against her for bringing such disgrace upon him. Her meekness, he feels, has done Michael more harm than a bitter temper could have done. He vows that he will find her and their daughter, Elizabeth-Jane.
Henchard hopes that he didn’t reveal his name the previous evening, which shows that Henchard understands his actions to have been wrong. However, he worries more about how others will see him because of the event, instead of feeling guilty. He blames Susan for her choice, particularly because it shows him in a poor light to others.
Henchard walks on until he sees a village and towering church spire. He heads to the church and enters through its unlocked door. At this morning hour, the labors have left for the fields, but their wives have not yet awoken. In the church, Henchard speaks aloud his vow to never drink liquor for at least twenty years, asking that he be struck dumb, blind, and helpless if he breaks this vow. Having taken this first step in a new direction, he eats breakfast in the village.
Henchard’s vow is significant because it takes place in a church, a traditional place of prayer and penance. His vow to not drink is both a punishment for his past actions, but also a goal for improvement in the future. Henchard, despite having sold his family, is not “evil.” He is a complex character who is able to grow and change.
Henchard seeks his wife and child, but as the weeks turn to months and he continues his search between odd jobs, he realizes the difficulty of the search. He is reluctant to reveal his own misconduct, which also hampers his search. Eventually he arrives at a western seaport, only to learn that people matching the description he gives emigrated before he arrived there. Finally giving up the search, he moves south to settle in the town of Casterbridge.
Henchard’s dedicated search for his wife and child reflect a commitment to his family, and his sense of duty to them. However, because this search is hampered by his unwillingness to tell the full story, it is clear that he places his own reputation above this sense of familial duty.