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The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Life and Death of the Mayor of Casterbridge: A Story of a Man of Character

author  Thomas Hardy

type of work  Novel

genre  Tragedy; naturalism; Bildungsroman (a novel that charts the protagonist’s moral and psychological development)

language  English

time and place written  18851886, Dorchester, England

date of first publication  The novel appeared in serial form concurrently in Graphic magazine in England and in Harper’s Weekly in the United States from January to May 1886. It was first published in book form in 1886.

publisher  Smith, Elder (in England); Henry Holt (in America)

narrator  The anonymous narrator speaks in the third person.

point of view  The point of view is, for the most part, limited to observations concerning the external world of the characters: how they act, what they see, and what they say. Occasionally an omniscient narrator breaks in to provide necessary information or back story, as in Chapter XXII where the narrator breaks the chronological flow of the story in order to provide essential information about events that occurred the previous night.

tone  Tragic, melodramatic, naturalistic

tense  Past

setting (time)  Mid-1800s

setting (place)  Casterbridge, England (a fictional town based on the city of Dorchester)

protagonist  Michael Henchard

major conflict  Wracked with guilt over selling his wife and child, Henchard tries to escape from the shadow of his past and his overwhelming need to punish himself for it.

rising action  Henchard arranges to remarry Susan.

climax  The furmity-woman, recognizing Henchard as the man who sold his wife and child at a fair in Weydon-Priors, divulges his shameful secret to the town of Casterbridge.

falling action  Having fallen out with Elizabeth-Jane, his only hope for a renewed life, Henchard slinks off to a humble country cottage to die.

themes  The importance of character; the value of a good name; the indelibility of the past

motifs  Coincidence; the tension between tradition and innovation; the tension between public life and private life

symbols  The caged goldfinch; the bull; the collision of the wagons

foreshadowing  Farfrae’s accumulation of Henchard’s business, social position, and family is first foreshadowed by Henchard’s failed day of celebration, which takes place alongside the Scotchman’s successful party.