Mayor Of Casterbridge Essay, Research Paper
One of the most striking aspects of The Mayor of Casterbridge, for example,
is the role of festival and the characters? perceptions of, and reactions
to, the festive. The novel opens with Henchard, his wife and baby daughter
arriving at Weydon-Priors fair. It is a scene of festive holiday in which
?the frivolous contingent of visitors? snatch a respite from labour after the
business of the fair has been concluded. Here Henchard gets drunk and vents
his bitterness and frustration at being unemployed on his marriage.
Henchard negates the festive and celebratory nature of the fair by his egotism.
What the people perceive as a joke permissable under the rules of topsy-turvy,
the licence of the temporary release from the world of work, Henchard means seriously
and in that act which refuses the spirit of festival he places himself in a
position of antagonism to the workfolk, an antagonism which grows with time.
From this opening the motif of festival shadows the story and mimes the ?tragic?
history of this solitary individual culminating in the ancient custom of the
skimmington ride. This motif forms a counterpoint to the dominant theme of work
and the novel develops on the basis of a conflict between various images of the
isolated, individualistic, egotistical and private forms of ?economic man?
(Bakhtin?s term) and the collectivity of the workfolk. The many images of
festivity – the washout of Henchards? official celebration of a national event,
Farfrae?s ?opposition randy?, the fete carillonnee which Casterbridge mounts to
receive the Royal Personage, the public dinner presided over by Henchard where
the town worthies drank and ate ?searching for titbits, and sniffing and grunting
over their plates like sows nuzzling for acorns?, the scenes of revelry in the
Three Mariners and Peter?s Finger – culminate in ? the great jocular plot? of the
skimmington. This ?uncanny revel?, which like a ?Daemonic Sabbath? was accompanied
by ?the din of cleavers, tongs, tambourines, kits, crouds, humstrums, serpents,
rams?-horns, and other historical kinds of music? is completely hidden from ?official?
Casterbridge for when the magistrates roust out the trembling constables, nothing is found:
?Effigies, donkey, lanterns, band, all had disappeared like the crew of Comus?.
It is the last we hear of the workfolk?s mocking laughter for ironically the very
success of this resurgence of carnival prepares the way for its suppression.
Elizabeth-Jane?s marriage to Farfrae signifies the truimph of the serious,
the organized, the moral, the rational, the final triumph of spirit over
the disorganized, the passionate, the festive, the flesh.
The essence of Elizabeth-Jane?s character is restraint and,
like Farfrae?s, her actions are characterized by their?reasonableness?
and her perception of the world is consistently ?tragical?.
In the closing passages of the novel she reflects that joy is no
longer an integral part of life but an interlude in a general drama of pain, a sentiment
which signals the victory of Christian morality over passion, the final triumph
of the morality of the pale Galilean. That certainly is Hardy?s intention, but in
the very ambiguity of that victory the limitations of the ideaology of the thinking
world are revealed precisely through the ?colonial? status of the people over whom
the new ideological forms now rule. Those ideological discourses which speak of
unity and harmony and universality are put into contradiction by images of suppression,
domination, conflict, not by virtue of the images per se but because they enable us
to see the ?outside? of a discourse which, claiming to be universal, has no bounds.
In their periodic outbursts of ?pagan? celebration the workfolk throw off the impositions
of sobriety and respectability in a spontaneous rebellion against social order in which
anyone who partakes becomes involved.
THE APPEARANCE OF WOMEN AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF WOMAN
In the structure of perceptions it is taken for granted that women?s sight is determined
in the main by the distracted gaze, their tendency to take the appearance for the essence
expressed by Christopher Julian in relation to Ethelberta ?That?s the nature of women——–they
take the form for the essence.? This perception appears in The Mayor of Casterbridge as
an authorial observation when Lucetta Templeman refuses to notice the impoverished Henchard
because he appeared ?far from attractive to a woman?s eye, ruled as that is so largely by
the superfices of things?. Similarly when Giles Winterborne meets Grace Melbury on her
return from school she is perceived as manifesting the same ?weakness? and Giles wryly observes
to himself that ?external phenomena? such as clothes or appearance ?may have great influence
upon feminine opinion of a man?s worth, so frequently founded on non-essentials?.
Through the observations of author and characters we are clearly given to understand that women
perceive the real as the apparent through the operation of the distracted gaze so that a woman?s
knowledge of people or the world appears to be merely the awareness of the effects of the impressions
made by the things she looks at.
But these observations are made in the context of women who have been, in one way or another,
socially displaced and in different ways artificially transformed into ?ladies?.
They are all in a sense acting a part and, most importantly, because of the role they have assumed
or been forced to assume are perceived in different ways.
The servant?s daughter, Ethelberta Chickerel, is about to marry Lord Mountclere ?to benefit
her brothers and sisters?; the once poor Lucetta Templeman has just been elevated, as the attractive
consort of Donald Farfrae, to the position of first lady of Casterbridge;
Grace Melbur y has just returned from finishing school where she has been transformed
from wood merchant?s daughter to a ?finished lady?. Clearly every female character is
different and each performs a different role in the novel in which she appears and in which
she achieves her reality as a ?living? character in the imaginary struggles in which she (and we)
becomes involved. Thus the ?tragic? consequences of Grace Melbury becoming a ?lady? bear no
resemblance to the ?comic? consequences of Elthelberta Chickerel becoming Lady Mountclere.
EXCLUSION AND REPRESSION; THE CHORIC RUMINATION OF HARDY?S CHARMING PUPPETS
With The Mayor of Casterbridge, we arrive at a full statement of Hardy?s universe
consciousness of the inadequacy of the old order is “modern consciousness” [it] is a study
in the discovery of self-alienation. Or we learn that ?in a sense [Henchard] is man? and in
his ?passage towards self-awareness we can read the sufferings of an entire species in its
struggle to master a destiny which demands the subjection of powerful instinctive forces?.
THOMAS HARDY AND THE REPRODUCTION OF THE RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION
At the heart of The Mayor of Casterbridge ?there is a sense of the cruel irony of life
Hardy sums up his philosophy in the last paragraph. It is the key-note of The Mayor
of Casterbridge. Life gives bitter blows . The sense of an inscrutable fate overlooking
man?s life hangs over [the novel] it is a novel of disillusionment, of helplessness in the
face of the circumstances of life.? There is a consistent emphasis on the helplessness of
individuals, of the hopelessness of the human situation (H.C.Duffin is quoted to the effect
that The Mayor of Casterbridge is ?the most hopeless book ever written. The tone of the telling,
in the latter half of the story is stony despair?) and of man?s stoical endurance in face of
the blows meted out to him by fate. And the phrase ?they do not come out of their experiences
finer than they went in? is repeated like a litany, a silent accusation of Hardy?s Godlessness.
The more sophisticated York Notes commentaries have a firmer authorial imprint
(each being written by a different academic/critic) and perhaps by virtue of their being
representative of a point of view rather than a distillation of many points of view they
appear to be more authoratitive, more ?critical?, less dogmatic. This is because we are
moving into a higher and more sophisticated articulation of aesthetic ideology.