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The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy
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The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy

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   The above combination is illustrated in the presentation of Henchard’s tragic end, which is also a reflection on the perils that depth of feeling and character seem to bring with them. The description of Henchard’s end, soaked in symbolic and cryptic language, echoes Shakespeare’s King Lear when the aged and mad king meets the storm followed by his loyal “fool” (just as Henchard is followed by Whittle). Yet, beyond this mythical presentation of his end, lies the psychological explanation that he died because he had lost all hope and the will to live. This is reflected in the heart-wrenching, desperate will with which he makes sure that his punishment will continue after death.

   Hardy’s philosophy on life and character is clearly voiced through Elizabeth-Jane and the ending she chose to endure. The ending of the novel orchestrates some of Hardy’s perennial themes revolving around the discords of human experience, change, the death of the individual, and the survival of the species.

   The mayor had tried to create his own destiny by producing a character that is fixed and permanent. However, the world, as Elizabeth-Jane acknowledges, is one of evolution and change, and so Henchard can no longer survive in this world, as he is non-adaptable. Elizabeth-Jane, on the other hand, develops a philosophy of endurance, quiet pessimism, and making “limited opportunities endurable”, which is presented as the key to survival.

   Reading “The Mayor of Casterbridge” is an experience; it just has so much to teach the perceptive reader: life, death, love, hate, tragedy, character, illusions, happiness. The ultimate message, I suppose, is that as long as people go on believing in things like romantic love and happiness, tragedy is unavoidable.

Book review by Anna Hassapi the big site