masterpiece "The Mayor of Casterbridge" proves beyond a
shadow of a doubt that “character is destiny”, and in writing it
Hardy proved that a tragedy can be one of the most enjoyable forms
of literature. As in ancient Greek tragedies, the protagonist of the
novel is carried from greatness to ruin (which he seems to have been
seeking) all because of his character.
The characters in the novel seem to be motivated by
forces unknown to them. What most of them fail to understand is that
this mysterious force is their own character, over which they have
no control. Henchard, the man of character, falls because of his
character, just as Farfrae, the calculating man of principle, rises
because of his character.
As Martin Seymour Smith explains “for Hardy tragedy
lies in man’s puzzling incapacity to avoid defeat despite his
limited but certainly existent freedom of choice”. This is vividly
exemplified in the wife-selling scene, which is one of the most
original and powerful in English literature. Henchard sells his wife
in an attempt to achieve freedom, but only achieves to enslave
himself for life- to put himself under a curse. As a result of his
guilt and sense of disgrace, Henchard invites the harshest of
punishments, seeks the most terrible of fates in order to suffer and
understand his existence. What Henchard is actually doing is
arranging his destiny, inviting tragedy!
An integral part of Henchard’s tragedy, however, lies
in the fact that he’s a character that is misunderstood; a
character with the most kind and genuine intentions, but one that
usually makes the worst of impressions. This is mostly due to his
inability to express his feelings in words. What he does pronounce
is banal, and not expressions of his true self. Similarly, Henchard
has a fierce need to love and be loved, and yet he cannot speak his
love. Does that make him a “highly dramatized portrait of all men”?
Perhaps. It certainly makes him the object of the reader’s
compassion and concern, despite his often apparently brutal
With this novel Hardy justifies his title as a “poet
miscast as a novelist”. Let’s not forget that poetry is where
Hardy first tried his talent. His approach to situation and plot is
never strictly realistic. As for character, it is presented in a
mythopoeic or symbolic manner, but still the characters are
believable and psychologically convincing.