The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.

Michael Henchard hides a shameful secret where two decades ago, in a drunken state, he sells his wife (Susan) and daughter (Elizabeth-Jane) to a passing sailor. To repent for his sin, he swears off drinking for 21 years. In that time, he arrives in Casterbridge and succeeds grandly in the corn and hay business. At the height of his esteem, he is Mayor and well-liked in town for his example of personal success through hard work. Soon thereafter, his estranged wife returns and he honors her by remarrying her, though under a guise so as not to reveal his past mistakes and embarrass himself. However, he had been involved with another woman (Lucetta) in a neighboring town to whom he must break his promise in order to be faithful to Susan. Henchard also meets up with Donald Farfrae, a young businessman, to whom he takes an immediate liking. Henchard hires Farfrae, unknowing that this young man will soon usurp all his possessions and titles with a quick twist of Fate. All is well for Henchard until the death of Susan, when a series of coincidences leads to Henchard’s ultimate demise. First he learns that Elizabeth-Jane is not really his daughter, causing him to treat her with disdain. Then he learns that Lucetta, who has come to Casterbridge to seek him in marriage, no longer wants to do so, her interests being swept up by Farfrae. Farfrae’s growing respect in town leads to his falling out with Henchard, so that Farfrae starts his own business in town, rivaling and eventually driving into bankruptcy Henchard’s operations. Henchard continues to spiral downwards when Lucetta and Farfrae marry, Elizabeth-Jane leaves him because of his cold heart, and he falls to drinking after his oath is complete. At the end of his life, Henchard dies alone, having alienated all those with whom he had affections for earlier in life.

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