On the road out of Casterbridge are two bridges where those in unfortunate circumstances often linger to reflect. The nearer of the two bridges is the haunt of those from poorer backgrounds, who do not mind being seen by passersby in the middle of 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 looking into the river, and sometimes their bodies are found the next morning floating at that location.
These two bridges are introduced at this point in the novel, although they will be more significant later on. The bridges symbolize isolation, positioned as they are outside of town, and used as places for the reflections of the unfortunate. When the second bridge reappears later in the novel, the reader has already been prepared to think of this bridge as a place of isolation, with a history of suicides.
Henchard walks to the second bridge and is gazing into the water when Jopp arrives and greets him. Jopp tells Henchard that Lucetta and Farfrae have moved into their new house, which is Henchard old house. Farfrae has also purchased all of Henchard’s furniture to use in the house. Henchard says ironically that Farfrae will likely buy his body and soul as well.
Jopp’s news of Farfrae’s purchases is further literal evidence of the ways Farfrae is replacing Henchard in Casterbridge. These literal changes represent Farfrae’s social replacement of Henchard (in more ways than by living in his house).
After Jopp leaves and Henchard remains at the bridge, a gig passes and Farfrae jumps out. He stays to speak to Henchard and asks if it’s true that he is considering leaving town. Farfrae kindly offers Henchard a space in his home (Henchard’s old house) until Henchard is able to sort out his circumstances. Henchard refuses, saying that they would surely quarrel. As they walk back to town together, Farfrae instead offers Henchard’s his pick of the furniture that he purchased, saying he bought it all that Henchard might have those things he cares about. Henchard is moved by this generosity and exclaims that sometimes he wonders if he has wronged Farfrae.
Farfrae’s act of generosity, while innocent on his part, is difficult for Henchard to hear because it would put him in reach of Lucetta and his old property, which are things, as Henchard sees it, that Farfrae has “stolen” from him. He points out that he and Farfrae would quarrel, despite Farfrae having always been kind and never quarrelsome with Henchard. Henchard is, however, not entirely blinded by his jealousy. He is able to admit Farfrae’s kindness.
Elizabeth-Jane’s new apartment, situated as it is across from Henchard’s old home, is now in close proximity to the lives of Farfrae and Lucetta. Elizabeth-Jane avoids looking across the street as much as possible, as she occupies herself with netting and studying books.
In attempting to flee from exposure to Lucetta and Farfrae’s happy married life, Elizabeth-Jane has accidently positioned herself close to them. She is forced to see their lives, even though she tries to avoid this.
Elizabeth-Jane hears that Henchard has fallen ill and she arrives at Jopp’s cottage. Despite Henchard’s initial protests that he does not want to see her, Elizabeth-Jane stays and cares for her father, as he recovers quickly with her assistance.
Elizabeth-Jane is able to break through Henchard’s pride with her kindness. Until this point, Henchard has never admitted his weakness or that he could need help from someone else.
Henchard appreciates and cares more for Elizabeth-Jane. He is able to seek work at Farfrae’s business, and is immediately employed. Farfrae wishes to help Henchard as much as possible, but keeps distance between them, knowing the older man’s strong temper. Often Henchard, as he works, must see Farfrae coming and going from his old home and from Lucetta inside.
Henchard is also directly exposed to Lucetta and Farfrae’s happily married life once he works at Farfrae’s business. The complex theme of love is explored by scenes of Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane, father and daughter, both pining over the same marriage.
Henchard hears a rumor that Farfrae will be elected as mayor soon. As Henchard works, Farfrae’s replacement of himself in reputation, location, and love festers in his mind. He feels Lucetta’s loss far more desperately than he had ever felt interest in her when he could have had her. Henchard is overheard to mutter to himself a count down of days, and when questioned, he says he is counting down the days until he may be released from his oath against drinking.
Working at Farfrae’s allows Henchard’s wounds time to fester. Henchard, although he is often rash in the moment, can also build a deep grudge over time. He focuses on being able to drink again as a way to relieve himself of his pain and resentment. As usual, his anger is focused on another and not at himself for his mistakes.
One Sunday, Elizabeth-Jane is sitting by her window when she overhears voices in the street, and one that exclaims that Michael Henchard has started drinking again after twenty years of sobriety.
Henchard drinking again marks a return to the angry, spontaneous, and extravagant personality he exhibited when he sold his wife and child.