Throughout the novel, protagonist Michael Henchard makes decisions while drunk, angry, proud, or jealous. These choices ultimately harm Henchard himself and lead to the loss of his family, his fortune, and his position in society. The novel opens with Michael Henchard’s cruel act of selling his wife Susan and child Elizabeth-Jane while he is drunk. Henchard’s drinking early in the novel causes an emotional riff between himself and his wife, and allows her to happily leave him for Richard Newson.
After the loss of his wife and daughter, Henchard vows to not drink for twenty years. This vow allows Henchard to be successful and prosperous, rising to prominence in Casterbridge as the mayor and as the owner of a successful corn and wheat business. His subsequent return to alcoholism contributes to his poor plan to kill Donald Farfrae. Henchard’s alcoholism is linked to his pride, as he uses drinking to compensate for feelings of self-hatred. His pride causes him to lose his partnership with Farfrae and to eventually go bankrupt because he cannot accept that the younger man might be more popular and more successful than himself. Henchard’s pride produces his jealousy of Farfrae. After Farfrae’s holiday celebrations are more popular than Henchard’s, Henchard in a “jealous temper” says that the young man’s time as his business manager is drawing to a close.
As Farfrae starts his own separate business and continues to excel within Casterbridge society, Henchard loses family and fortune as his jealousy harms himself and his reputation. For example, Henchard’s attempt to ruin Farfrae’s business backfires and causes his own business to go into debt. Despite Farfrae’s kindness, Henchard establishes himself as Farfrae’s rival in business and in romance. Henchard’s interest in Lucetta increases, primarily because of her transfer of her affections to Farfrae. Henchard jealously tries to force her to agree to marry him. When Lucetta marries Farfrae secretly, Henchard is angry and obsessed with her betrayal. Henchard is driven crazy by the thought of Farfrae taking a position as the new mayor, and their positions are completely reversed by the end of the novel. Farfrae is a successful and prominent figure in Casterbridge, and he lives in the grand house that was once Henchard’s. Henchard dies, virtually alone and friendless.
Self-Destruction 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!”
But Henchard continued moody and silent, and when one of the men inquired of him if some oats should be hoisted to an upper floor or not, he said shortly, "Ask Mr. Farfrae. He's master here!" Morally he was; there could be no doubt of it. Henchard, who had hitherto been the most admired man in his circle, was the most admired no longer.
"Mr. Farfrae's time as my manager is drawing to a close--isn't it, Farfrae?"
The young man, who could now read the lines and folds of Henchard's strongly-traced face as if they were clear verbal inscriptions, quietly assented; and when people deplored the fact, and asked why it was, he simply replied that Mr. Henchard no longer required his help. Henchard went home, apparently satisfied. But in the morning, when his jealous temper had passed away, his heart sank within him at what he had said and done. He was the
more disturbed when he found that this time Farfrae was determined to take him at his word.
"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!"
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.
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?”
"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."
"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!"
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.
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.”
MICHAEL HENCHARD'S WILL
"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.