The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Chapters 3–4 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3

This chapter takes up the story after a gap of 18 years. In a mirror image of the conclusion of Chapter 2, when Michael Henchard was searching for his wife and child, Susan Henchard and her daughter Elizabeth-Jane are now searching for the man who sold them off to a stranger. Their path leads them to Weydon-Priors, where they encounter the furmity-woman. Susan has not disclosed the whole truth of their past to Elizabeth-Jane. In Susan's partial account, Henchard is not Elizabeth-Jane's father; he is a "connection by marriage." Elizabeth-Jane believes her father is the sailor Richard Newson, the man who bought them at auction 18 years earlier, and Susan hasn't denied it.

The furmity-woman, Mrs. Goodenough, directs Susan and Elizabeth-Jane to Casterbridge, the region's major town and farming center. Although many years have passed since she encountered Michael Henchard, she remembers he was headed there. Susan resolves to go there and seek her former husband.

Chapter 4

After a considerable journey, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane arrive in Casterbridge. In a mini-flashback, readers learn Richard Newson, Elizabeth-Jane's supposed father, has been reported as lost at sea and is now presumed dead. For reasons of pride, Susan has kept Elizabeth-Jane in a "half-informed state."

Analysis

In Chapter 3 Hardy initiates what will turn out to be one of the novel's major strands: the theme of deception. This theme, which will involve nearly all the characters, will range from outright mendacity to partial truth to suppression of the whole truth, and Hardy will create many variations on it. For the moment, deception involves Susan's deliberate concealment of Michael Henchard's true identity and of his relationship to her and to Elizabeth-Jane.

Two of Hardy's most important literary techniques in the novel are allusion and irony. Allusions are references to historical or mythological events, passages in literature, places, or people a writer expects his or her audience to recognize. An example occurs early in Chapter 4: "It had seemed, indeed, folly to think of making Elizabeth-Jane wise." Hardy's reference is to a semi-proverbial passage in a well-known poem by Thomas Gray: "where ignorance is bliss/'Tis folly to be wise" ("Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College," 1747).

In The Mayor of Casterbridge, as in all his novels, Hardy also makes extensive use of irony, which may be defined as a pointed contrast between what seems to be true and what is true, or between what one expects to happen and what does happen. In Chapter 3, for example, Susan's dialogue with Elizabeth-Jane concerning Henchard employs dramatic irony: readers are aware of something of which one or more characters remain ignorant. In this case, readers know of Henchard's relationship to Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, but Elizabeth-Jane does not.

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