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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
In an act of contrition, Henchard visits Elizabeth-Jane
on her wedding day, carrying the gift of a caged goldfinch. He leaves
the bird in a corner while he speaks to his stepdaughter and forgets
it when she coolly dismisses him. Days later, a maid discovers the
starved bird, which prompts Elizabeth-Jane to search for Henchard,
whom she finds dead in Abel Whittle’s cottage. When Whittle reports
that Henchard “didn’t gain strength, for you see, ma’am, he couldn’t eat,”
he unwittingly ties Henchard’s fate to the bird’s: both lived and died
in a prison. The finch’s prison was literal, while Henchard’s was the
inescapable prison of his personality and his past.
The bull that chases down Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane stands
as a symbol of the brute forces that threaten human life. Malignant, deadly,
and bent on destruction, it seems to incarnate the unnamed forces
that Henchard often bemoans. The bull’s rampage provides Henchard
with an opportunity to display his strength and courage, thus making
him more sympathetic in our eyes.
When a wagon owned by Henchard collides with a wagon owned by
Farfrae on the street outside of High-Place Hall, the interaction bears
more significance than a simple traffic accident. The violent collision
dramatically symbolizes the tension in the relationship between
the two men. It also symbolizes the clash between tradition, which
Henchard embodies, and the new modern era, which Farfrae personifies.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Mayor of Casterbridge!