Loyalty is a defining aspect of the characters Elizabeth-Jane and Susan in this novel. Both women fulfill the expectations of their duties as women, wives, and daughters, while also upholding their past commitments. Duty in the novel is any abstract idea of what is expected of an individual because of her or his position in society. Commitments are any specific agreements made in the past above and beyond one’s duties.
After Susan remarries Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane is remarkably motivated by a sense of duty to her father and her new position to better herself through education and proper speech. “‘If I am not well-informed it shall be by no fault of my own,’ she would say to herself,” while studying diligently. Only Susan’s belief that her sale to Newson was binding keeps her committed to him rather than to Henchard. When she learns the truth, she feels it is her duty to return to her true husband.
Other characters in the novel have more complex relationships to loyalty. Henchard’s awareness of his past wrongs is connected to the guilt he feels when he does not fulfill his duty to his wife, daughter, or Lucetta. Henchard wishes to remarry Susan for his daughter’s sake. But Henchard also is anxious to atone for his past in which he did not maintain his commitment to his wife. Henchard feels he must marry Lucetta once his wife dies because of their past relationship. Lucetta must decide between her past commitment to Henchard and her love for Farfrae when she moves to Casterbridge. Elizabeth-Jane believes Lucetta must marry Henchard because of their past and their agreement. Lucetta struggles against this commitment because of her love for Farfrae, ultimately choosing love over commitment, which hurts both Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane, who are more driven by loyalty to others.
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments ThemeTracker
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Quotes in The Mayor of Casterbridge
“For my part I don’t see why men who have got wives, and don’t want ‘em, shouldn’t get rid of ‘em as these gipsy fellows do their old horses…why shouldn’t they put them up and sell ‘em by auction to men who are in want of such articles? Hey? Why, begad, I’d sell mine this minute, if anybody would buy her!”
“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!”
"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.
"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!"
Hence, when she felt her heart going out to him, she would say to herself with a mock pleasantry that carried an ache with it, "No, no, Elizabeth-Jane--such dreams are not for you!" She tried to prevent herself from seeing him, and thinking of him; succeeding fairly well in the former attempt, in the latter not so completely.
"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!"
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.
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.
"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!"
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?”
The truth was that, as may be divined, he had quite intended to effect a grand catastrophe at the end of this drama by reading out the name, he had come to the house with no other thought. But sitting here in cold blood he could not do it. Such a wrecking of hearts appalled even him. His quality was such that he could have annihilated them both in the heat of action; but to accomplish the deed by oral poison was beyond the nerve of his enmity.
"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!"