Susan has never told Elizabeth-Jane the truth about Henchard and the events at the Weydon-Priors fair. Susan has also innocently believed her sale to Richard Newson to be binding. A friend in whom Susan confided the truth corrected her belief, and Susan was torn between her loyalty to her true husband and her connection to Newson.
Susan’s belief that her sale to Newson was binding reflects her innocent acceptance of events in her life. Susan is naturally passive, but she is also strongly driven by loyalty and duty. Upon learning the truth, she felt torn between her duties to both men.
The news of Newson’s loss at sea relieved Susan’s conscience and made her free to seek out her husband, Henchard. Susan tells Elizabeth-Jane that they are seeking a relative to ask for his support in their state of poverty after Newson’s loss.
Death appears at a few places in the novel as a means of relieving other characters from responsibilities and duties, particularly those of marriage or family commitment.
On a September evening, the mother and daughter arrive at Casterbridge, an old-fashioned village crowed together and surrounded by a square of trees. Two talking men pass them on the road, and Elizabeth-Jane overhears them use the name “Henchard.” Susan wishes to make more private inquiries than to ask the men about Henchard and his role in the town.
The mention of Henchard’s name before Susan and Elizabeth-Jane actually arrive in Casterbridge foreshadows Henchard’s importance and prominence in the town. Susan wishes to keep her dealings with Henchard private, which again reflects her interest in secrecy and discretion.
The trees surrounding Casterbridge are part of the town’s ancient defenses. The houses are built within a wall within the line of trees on a bank before a ditch. The well-lit town is clearly separate from the dark countryside. Sounds of a brass band can be heard as the two women walk down High Street. The farming tools and products available in the shop windows reflect the pastoral character of the town.
The physical layout of the town makes Casterbridge seem like an old-fashioned fortress, separate from the surrounding countryside, but the shops and tools demonstrate the town’s dependence on farming. The success or failure of farming drives major events in the novel.
In the square before the church, a few women taste pieces of bread. Susan inquires after the nearest bakery, but the pair learns from the woman about the shortage of bread in town due to the sale of a crop of bad wheat. The woman notes their unfamiliarity with Casterbridge, but Susan withdraws, not wishing to be to be too closely observed before she learns of Henchard’s situation and whereabouts.
The bad wheat and the shortage of bread reflect a problem in Casterbridge, something that needs to be fixed. Another thing that needs to be restored is the broken marriage between Susan and Henchard, and, like the wheat, this is later improved.