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Mayor Of Casterbridge Essay Research Paper In

Mayor Of Casterbridge Essay, Research Paper

In Thomas Hardy?s The Mayor Of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard represents an

incarnation of the Classical ?tragic hero.? In Greek literature, a tragic

hero is a well-known and respected individual whose tragedy usually involves

some kind of fall from glory. His downfall has been precipitated by his own flaw

of character or judgment, some mistake or series of mistakes that has serious

consequences. A key element is that the hero’s experiences don’t simply end with

the mistake or catastrophe; true tragic heroes must come to discover or

recognize what has happened to them and ultimately pay their ramifications.

Surely such a description fits the hubristic Michael Henchard and maps out the

tale of events set forth in The Mayor Of Casterbridge. The definition of a

tragic hero includes his fall from glory, which in early 20th century literature

would be social-class related. Henchard?s rapid decline from Mayor to pauper

qualifies as such a fall. It is even more of a tragedy since there was so much

embarrassment and scandal surrounding his deterioration from a pillar of the

town of Casterbridge. ?Everybody else, from the Mayor to the washerwoman,

shone in new vesture according to means; but Henchard had doggedly retained the

fretted and weather-beaten garments of bygone years.? (Page 261) His ragged

appearance at a royal procession shows just how deep he had fallen into

depression and oblivion. Though modern usage of the word ?hero? indicates a

nobler persona, at its roots a hero is simply the main character of any story,

and not necessarily a knight in shining armor. A tragic hero?s sad story comes

from his own flaws, and Michael Henchard was certainly not lacking in faults and

poor judgments. Often he displays impulsiveness, which always results in

bringing him closer to his demise. As with selling his wife, deciding to hide

his past grievances, and buying over-priced grain, Henchard?s lack of

self-control worsens each situation. He is also a very proud man, which turns

into simple stubbornness. On page 259 he indignantly proclaims: ??I?ll

welcome his royal highness, or nobody shall!?? showing his childish need for

control and superiority. His poor judgment in dealing with his feud with Donald

Farfrae shows what a weak character he really is. All of Henchard?s offensive

qualities gradually alienate all those around him. The final characteristic of a

tragic hero?s saga is his realization of his mistake as well as the endurance

of the consequences. In Henchard’s case, the original mistake was the sale of

his wife Susan two decades prior. His affliction begins almost immediately as

his mistake is realized; he vows to abstain from alcohol for twenty-one years

(??…being a year for every year that I have lived.?? Page 25) But, as

the reader begins to realize, Henchard has only gone through the motions of

repentance, and as soon as he is faced with adversity, his rougher qualities

still surface. ?…it was still a part of his [Henchard?s] nature to

extenuate nothing, and live on as one of his own worst accusers.?(Page 322) So

since his self-inflicted punishment is only half-hearted, Hardy has Fate or

Consequence step in to sufficiently burden him with hardships until his death.

The theme and spirit of tragedy found a new vehicle in the novel in the 19th

century, its form being originally used only in plays. Thomas Hardy has been

quoted as comparing the rural setting of this and other of his novels to the

stark and simple setting of the Greek theater, giving his novels something of

that drama’s intensity and sharpness of focus. This grimly pessimistic view of

man’s nature qualifies Michael Henchard as a Classical Tragic Hero; his own

inner faults ultimately bring him down from his high post. Darkness and doubt

blanket the tale with Michael Henchard?s forever unresolved and unpredictable

capacities for good, and for evil.