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A STEP BEYOND
TESTS AND ANSWERS
_____ 1. Michael Henchard decided to auction his wife because
B. he felt she kept him from succeeding
C. she did not bear him a son
B. he will end her financial problems
C. he will open up new worlds for her and her daughter
B. discuss ways to modernize his business
C. learn how to revive bad wheat
B. the tears that Elizabeth-Jane and Susan have shed
C. downward turning points in Henchard's life
B. moves into Jopp's cottage
C. lies to Richard Newson
B. inherit money from a rich relative
C. appear to be a proper English lady
B. his holiday festivities are rained out
C. Lucetta marries Farfrae instead of him
B. wants to show up Farfrae as a poor mayor
C. wants to show he is still a town leader
B. Damon and Pythias
C. Cain and Abel
11. Discuss how Michael Henchard's great energy plays a major part in both his rise and fall.
12. Why is it significant that the novel was originally serialized in a magazine?
13. Discuss the primitive nature of the town of Casterbridge.
14. Discuss ways that Donald Farfrae is both an admirable and an unsympathetic character in the novel.
_____ 1. Nearly all of Susan Henchard's actions are inspired by her desire to
B. help her daughter get ahead in life
C. escape from bad treatment by men
B. she was a "fallen woman"
C. she was too rich for him to be comfortable with her
B. admitted to the furmity woman's charges
C. failed to prevent the skimmity-ride
B. make it easier for Henchard to woo her
C. increase her social position in the town
B. changing her name
C. writing notes and letters to Henchard
B. Roman times
C. the early 1600s
B. thieves and other criminals from
B. joy at her finding happiness at last
C. anger and frustration
B. that Henchard still retains a certain amount of pride
C. the nature of true friendship
11. Discuss Hardy's use of coincidence in the novel.
12. Discuss the purposes and effects of the skimmity-ride.
13. Point out ways that Michael Henchard brings about his own downfall.
14. Discuss why Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane ultimately triumph.
11. Michael Henchard's most dominant quality is his great energy. He is a man of action, constantly on the move. He arrives in Casterbridge as an unemployed hay-trusser and within a few years becomes an affluent grain merchant. Hardy makes it clear that Henchard's business success is based on instinct rather than organization. It takes Donald Farfrae to inject a sense of order and organization into Henchard's grain business. After Henchard goes bankrupt, the town leaders state explicitly that Henchard had only one talent- his energy. In a traditional, agriculture-based society, energy seems to be enough for a person to become successful. However, Casterbridge is changing at the time of the novel, and Henchard's energy is not sufficient to guarantee him success in this changing environment. His tendency to pursue a course of action stubbornly and energetically leads to his downfall. He speculates rashly in business and goes bankrupt. He insists on greeting the Prince and makes a fool of himself. The source of Henchard's strength, his one-directional energy, turns out to be his greatest weakness as well.
12. The fact that The Mayor of Casterbridge was originally published as a magazine serial accounts for the strong emphasis on plot in the novel, the continual introduction of new characters and the reappearance of old ones, and the episodic nature of the plot. Each chapter contains at least one major moment of action or passion. Each chapter also ends with an unresolved issue in order to draw readers into the next episode. The novel's serialization also accounts for Hardy's use of numerous coincidences in the novel. For example, such characters as the sailor Newson and the furmity woman reappear in the novel to provide important pieces of plot history and to change the movement of the plot. Hardy's use of foreshadowing throughout the novel is another serialization technique, increasing readers' anticipation for future episodes.
13. For Hardy, Wessex is an area still locked in the past and just emerging into the modern era. Although Casterbridge is the major urban center of Wessex, it is clearly not a modern city. Major roads don't lead into or out of Casterbridge. Instead, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane enter the town via a "coach-road." Elizabeth's first comment about Casterbridge is that it is an "old- fashioned place." It is bound tightly by walls of trees, a little like the stone walls that surrounded European fortress towns from Roman times through the Middle Ages. The town makes its living in a primitive manner, almost entirely through agriculture, and nearly all of the agricultural tools are manual ones. The modern seed-drill that Farfrae introduces into the town creates quite a stir. Traditional customs abound as well. Farmers still visit a weather-prophet to determine the quality of the harvest, and the lower classes still ridicule their "betters" through mock processions such as skimmity-rides. Even in their conversations about the town, the natives emphasize the past- the links to Rome and to the rebellion under James I- rather than the future. At the time of the novel the town is changing. That Henchard is eventually displaced by Farfrae illustrates the movement of Casterbridge from its roots to a more modern future.
14. There are two different mayors of Casterbridge. While the fortunes of Michael Henchard fall during the course of the novel, those of Donald Farfrae rise. Farfrae gains public respect, high social stature, wealth, and the love of two women. His rise is based upon numerous admirable qualities. In business, he is organized and fair, and he seldom speculates unwisely. He amasses his wealth through a series of small gains rather than by relying on one major windfall. The townspeople talk about him respectfully in the King's Arms, the Three Mariners, and Peter's Finger. As a lover, he is shy and poetic rather than forceful. In all of these ways, he differs from Michael Henchard. On the other hand, Farfrae's reliance on reason rather than emotion makes him appear insensitive at times. He blithely takes over everything that Henchard once owned or cared for- business, house, furniture, even women- and seems to rub Henchard's nose in his failure by offering his former employer a job and a room. He quickly forgets Lucetta when her failings are revealed and moves on to a "purer" woman, Elizabeth-Jane. Once mayor, he also assumes airs, as the people in the Three Mariners and in Mixen Lane note. He has little feeling for tradition and seems to view everything in terms of dollars and cents. For example, he pays his workers less than Henchard did, and at the end of the novel he wants to give up the search for Henchard rather than spend an extra shilling for overnight lodging.
11. Hardy uses a series of coincidences- some probable and some improbable- to move the plot along in The Mayor of Casterbridge and to precipitate Henchard's downfall. For example, the story line progresses to Casterbridge in the first place because Henchard leaves a message concerning his whereabouts with the furmity woman, and Susan comes to get the message 17 years later. Farfrae happens to be passing through the town just when Henchard is looking for a business manager, and he happens to overhear Henchard's comments about turning bad wheat into good. Without this series of coincidences, Henchard might never have hired Farfrae, and his downfall might have been averted. The same furmity woman arrives in Casterbridge two years later and reveals Henchard's sin because he is trying her case in court. Her revelation of his auctioning of his family completes his downfall and drives Lucetta into a quick marriage with Farfrae. Susan gives both of her daughters the same name and leaves a poorly sealed note that explains the parentage of both girls. Henchard reads the note just after he has convinced Elizabeth- Jane to accept him as her true father. His reaction to the note affects many of his later actions. The sailor Newson's two appearances in Casterbridge precipitate Henchard's leaving the town for good. The barrage of negative coincidences that seem to befall Henchard emphasizes the idea that his doom is sealed from the beginning.
12. You can look at the skimmity-ride scene from two different points of view- Hardy's and that of his characters. Hardy uses the skimmity-ride to emphasize the primitive, superstitious side of Casterbridge. The skimmity-ride is an ancient tradition, a mock procession that dates back hundreds of years. The skimmity-ride also provides Hardy with a spectacular way to end Lucetta's involvement in the novel and to complete another strand in Henchard's life while opening a new chapter in Farfrae's. As an apt punishment for Lucetta's hubris, the skimmity-ride emphasizes Hardy's message about living a life of moderation. From the point of view of the different characters in Casterbridge, the skimmity-ride is a way to equalize the class structure, as it allows the lower classes to bring down those in power.
13. Michael Henchard may see himself as a victim of capricious fate, but in great part his own actions cause his downfall. Henchard's excessive pride and quick temper are as responsible for his failings as are the coincidences that continually haunt him. If he didn't allow himself to be plagued by guilt because of his wrong-doings, he might have been able to avoid some of the problems that humble him in the end. He sells his wife and then makes it possible for her to find him again. He remarries Susan and invites new problems into his life. He turns against Elizabeth-Jane when he learns that she isn't his real daughter, rather than try to win her love. He convinces Farfrae to remain in the town and then fires him in a moment of temper. Rather than apologize, he tries to ruin Farfrae and ends up in bankruptcy. He undergoes a battle of wills with Lucetta and finally loses her to Farfrae. He meekly accepts his downfall and goes to work for Farfrae rather than use his energy to seek a new life. He lies to Newson rather than trust Elizabeth-Jane to love both of her "fathers." By every action he takes, Henchard brings himself further and further down.
14. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard symbolizes tradition and excessive pride, while Elizabeth-Jane Newson and Donald Farfrae symbolize modernization and moderation. Two of Hardy's major themes are the displacement of traditional ways in Casterbridge by more modern methods, and the importance of living a moderate life-style. To these ends, Henchard and Lucetta must be humbled and ultimately destroyed. Farfrae, with his modern business methods and his reliance on reason, promises a new era in Casterbridge. Elizabeth-Jane, with her propriety and moderation and her interest in helping others of all classes, also helps bring a new stability to the town. Both Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane are survivors, even if they don't display much flair in their lives. Their ultimate triumph shows that Casterbridge will enter the modern world a calmer but less vital place.
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