The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Chapters 15–16 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 15

The first part of this chapter records the growing attraction between Elizabeth-Jane and Donald Farfrae. Elizabeth-Jane is privately astonished by her new status as "the town beauty."

In the second part of the chapter, Henchard sternly admonishes one of his employees, Abel Whittle, to do a better job of arriving for work on time in the morning. An inveterate oversleeper, Whittle is late the very next day. Enraged, Henchard issues a stern threat, but his admonitions are in vain, for Whittle is missing on the following morning. Henchard marches to the man's house, roughly awakens him, and then humiliates him by forcing him to travel to work in his underwear.

Donald Farfrae intervenes, strongly challenging Henchard and threatening to quit if the public disgrace of Whittle continues. Henchard sullenly backs down. From this point on, his reputation suffers, while ever greater numbers of people admire and rely on Farfrae. The two men ostensibly patch up their spat, but privately Henchard begins to regret confiding so many secrets to the younger man.

Chapter 16

Henchard's reserve toward Farfrae increases. In this chapter tension again arises between the two men. Farfrae makes plans to stage a public entertainment during a town holiday. Henchard does the same, determined to make his preparations on a grander scale, staging a "mammoth tea" for everyone free of charge. But a rainstorm on the appointed day dooms Henchard's plans to failure because the venue he has selected is too exposed to the inclement weather. Farfrae's entertainment, by contrast, succeeds admirably. Embarrassed by the success of a man who is now his rival and who has captured public admiration, Henchard hints Farfrae's time as his manager is drawing to a close.

Analysis

These two chapters are united by a common thread. Both dramatize a growing rift between Henchard and Farfrae. Henchard's tyrannical nature verges on brutality in his treatment of poor Abel Whittle, whose subordination is stressed in the title he uses to address the mayor: "your worshipful." Farfrae intervenes in the name of common decency, and his reputation immediately grows more positive, while Henchard's dips downward.

Likewise, in Chapter 16, Henchard's plans for a holiday entertainment turn sour, while Farfrae's plans succeed. The two former friends are now portrayed as rivals—mostly from Henchard's perspective. The gall of Henchard's disappointment is even more bitter when he is forced to watch Farfrae dancing with Elizabeth-Jane and when he is pompously lectured by several townsfolk about his choice of venue. Typically, Henchard falls victim to what the narrator calls his "jealous temper," and he hints darkly at Farfrae's dismissal. Also typically, Henchard is full of regret the next morning because it now seems very likely he will lose the Scotchman's services.

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