The Mayor of Casterbridge: Themes
Secrets and shame of past actions are seen to contribute to the deceptions practised by Henchard, Lucetta and Susan. The keeping of secrets and the telling of lies are used to drive the narrative and maintain the action as each of these attempts to be perceived as morally correct. The fear of these secrets leaking out and their eventual discovery anyway offers the argument that it is impossible to evade past indiscretions. The more these characters try to cover over their mistakes, the more likely it becomes that they are punished in the narrative for not being as upright as Elizabeth-Jane. There is an element of natural justice being meted out as, for example, Lucetta’s relationship with Henchard is discovered despite her machinations to keep it quiet. It is as though her exploitation of Elizabeth-Jane is penalized as much as his is later
The rivalry that Henchard feels towards Farfrae may be interpreted as an ongoing antagonism that has echoes of the Oedipal complex. His jealousy for the younger man and their triangulated desire (with Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane as the separate love objects) allow for their relationship to be read as one that depends on both their gender and generational difference for its source.
Henchard is jealous of the younger man’s greater success and he also demonstrates an insecure fear of being usurped. These factors mean that the theme of jealousy is useful for depicting Henchard’s impulsive and uncontrolled behavior particularly when he watches Farfrae’s successes.
The unhappy marriage is an ongoing theme and is pointed to in the first chapter as Henchard and Susan are described as they walk in silence towards Weydon fair. His subsequent sale of her reiterates their antagonism with each other and his irrational behavior when drinking. It also highlights a realistic rather than idealistic view of romance and marriage.
This critique of idealized romance colors the novel and is in evidence when Henchard and Susan later ‘remarry’ as he attempts to make amends for the past and to maintain his respectable position in Casterbridge society. This pessimistic look at romantic love is also in evidence when Farfrae considers wooing Elizabeth-Jane again after Henchard has informed him this is acceptable. His views of marriage are influenced by a successful business transaction and the thought of becoming closer to Henchard and all of these thoughts are forgotten after he meets Lucetta.
The Mayor of Casterbridge Study GuideChoose to Continue
- The Mayor of Castebridge
- Essay Questions
- Top Ten Quotations
- Chapters 1,2
- Chapters 3,4,5
- Chapters 6,7,8
- Chapters 9,10,11
- Chapters 12,13,14
- Chapters 15,16,17
- Chapters 18,19,20
- Chapters 21,22,23
- Chapters 24,25,26
- Chapters 27,28,29,30,31,32
- Chapters 33,34,35,36,37,38
- Chapters 39,40,41,42,43,44,45