The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Chapters 31–32 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 31

This chapter focuses on Henchard's rapidly sinking fortunes. He is forced to declare bankruptcy. Confronting the situation with typically defiant pride, he refuses to hold back any of his possessions, even offering his gold watch to the bankruptcy officials. When they decline to accept it, Henchard sells the timepiece to the watchmaker and then hands the money to one of his creditors who has fallen on hard times.

Meanwhile, Farfrae continues to displace Henchard on every front. He buys Henchard's business, Henchard moves into Joshua Jopp's cottage, and Elizabeth-Jane's efforts to visit her stepfather fail.

Chapter 32

Henchard stands by an old bridge on the edge of town, from which some people have leaped to their deaths. Joshua Jopp informs him Farfrae has bought Henchard's old house, into which he and Lucetta have moved. In an encounter between Henchard and Farfrae, the latter generously invites Henchard to stay in some of the rooms at the house. He also offers to return to Henchard any favorite pieces of furniture.

Henchard falls ill with a cold, and Elizabeth-Jane succeeds in visiting him. Deciding to remain in Casterbridge, he signs on as a day-laborer in the business he used to own. Rumor has it Farfrae may become the town's new mayor. In a conversation with Solomon Longways, Henchard says in 12 days he will be released from his oath not to touch alcohol.

Analysis

At the beginning of Chapter 31, Hardy's psychological insight in the account of Henchard's fallen reputation is notable. The Casterbridge gossip, ignited by the furmity-woman's disclosure about Henchard's past, is unrestrained. The townsfolk discount Henchard's "amends" in later life, and time is paradoxically foreshortened, as Henchard's shameful act in his youth wears "the aspect of a recent crime."

The incident of the gold watch reveals Henchard as appealingly honest as well as stubbornly defiant in the bankruptcy proceedings. This episode is strikingly consistent with Hardy's characterization of the protagonist as a person of numerous conflicting traits—in short, a fully "rounded" character whose considerable flaws coexist with substantial virtues.

Characters in Hardy's fiction have a way of reappearing unexpectedly after a long absence. The furmity-woman is one example. Another is Abel Whittle, the employee whom Henchard humiliated back in Chapter 15. Whittle's final appearance in the story will be at the conclusion in Chapter 45. Still another example is Richard Newson in the later chapters of the novel.

The juxtaposition of Farfrae's generosity with Henchard's gloomy, embittered moodiness in Chapter 32 offers a good example of the two characters' relationship as foils. In addition, the dialogue between Henchard and Solomon Longways about the imminent expiration of Henchard's oath offers a good example of foreshadowing.

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