The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge: The Life and Death of a Man of Character is the story of Michael Henchard who is indeed, if anything, a gentleman of character. This is a book that will take you through the full spectrum of emotions, happiness being the last one of them. Hardy, always being true to the nature of what he writes, this time chose suffering and misery. After all, it is the story of a man who sells his wife and baby under the influence of liquor in the first two chapters of the novel.
Henchard is without a doubt a flawed man, a man who makes many grave mistakes but is not ashamed of accepting his guilt when the time comes and every time makes up for them. Selling his wife and child is not the only egregious decision he makes. He opens the letter that his wife asked him to open on the day of their daughter Elizabeth Jane’s marriage, thus disregarding the wish of a dead woman. He’s a man who, because of his own jealousy, fails to see the worth of a man who could be a good husband to his daughter. He’s a man who could force a woman to marry him, a man who could lie to a father that his daughter has died to selfishly protect his interests. Yes, Henchard is no doubt all of this to the point that sometimes it feels like the novel is a chronicle of a man’s wrongdoings. But this is where Hardy’s true genius steps in.
This is a book that will take you through the full spectrum of emotions, happiness being the last one of them.
Hardy has made Henchard into a man whom the readers cannot hate even if they want to. Henchard can be anything and everything but he is also a man who does not give up easily; a man who will do anything, leave no stone unturned to atone for the errors he has made because of his willful, passionate nature. There are times when he nearly crosses the line between good and evil, but he invariably returns to the good side, gloriously broken, pitiful, but unable to intentionally harm anyone.
The reader pities him not because he constantly finds himself in bad circumstances or because he loses everything he has built for himself over the course of years, both wealth and relationships, but because his attempts to redeem himself are so strong but also so devastatingly unfruitful that they tear the reader’s soul apart. For it is the reader who is the only one to shed tears for him. Henchard… It is a name that is always alone in the saddest moments.
Hardy has done a great deal in making readers fully aware of the irony and the tragedy revolving around Michael Henchard.
Hardy has done a great deal to make readers fully aware of the irony and the tragedy revolving around Michael Henchard. The thing about Hardy’s writing is that he is so good at creating scenes that are complex and yet so simple that the character’s feelings can easily be understood while the reader’s own ones remain mixed up.
Character is fate for Hardy. Henchard’s fate is sealed by the stubbornness of his character. And even though he is not the only character in the story, it is Henchard who wins the reader’s heart. In the end, the story was written by Hardy but lives inside the readers’ hearts.