What Does the Opening Chapter of the Mayor of Casterbridge Reveal to Us About the Characters, Issues to Come in the Novel and Hardy's Style?

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  • Topic: Thomas Hardy, Thomas Hardy's Wessex, The Mayor of Casterbridge
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  • Published : April 2, 2007
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come in the novel and Hardy's style?

In the first chapter of the Mayor of Casterbridge, the main characters are introduced to us from the outset (a young family with a small child approaching the village of Weydon-Priors,) with the opening line informing the reader immediately of fundamental characters in the story. Thomas Hardy then immediately moves on to establish the protagonist, prior to conveying images of the village setting to the reader. Thus, Hardy suggests to the reader that the main attention of the novel will be on this man only and the way in which the setting and other characters influence him. This immediate attention on Henchard helps to reinforce and illustrate that the sub title of the novel is "The life and death of a man of character." Not only are characters initiated to us in chapter one but we also see themes and issues to come in the novel as well as the disclosure of Hardy's style. A key element of the novel's opening chapter is the shocking and very immoral action of the auctioning of Henchard's wife and daughter, structurally placed at the beginning in order to capture the reader's attention and to heighten the action's atrocity as it is the first key event described in detail. By placing this action at the start, it brings in the idea of morality and how this is closely related to the protagonist.

In Chapter One, there are numerous disclosures to the reader about the character of Henchard through what Hardy intimates, how Michael Henchard acts and the in-depth descriptions of his physical appearance. Hardy portrays Michael as an individual, which engenders a contrast between the community of Weydon Priors and the protagonist. Hardy creates a sense of aloofness between Weydon Priors and Michael Henchard by denoting him as "the man" when presenting him against the setting of the large village, which makes the two seem very distanced suggesting, that he is an outsider. Hardy's presentation of the character from an objective 3rd person perspective gives rise to the concept of detachment, mirroring the detachment the protagonist has from the village and connects with the theme of isolationism. This vague allusion to the character provokes a sense of ambiguity as the character at this point is anonymous (therefore establishing him as unique as he is presented as a mysterious individual). Hardy may have also chosen not to reveal the character's name at this point in order to convey an idea of a lack or loss of identity. A sense of individualism is heightened when Hardy emphasises how dissimilar he is to others "…as distinct from the desultory shamble of the general labourer…" the adjective distinct highlights the separateness between Michael and a general labourer. The term general is implicit of a vast majority of people being this type of labourer, a common labourer representing the public as a whole, therefore suggesting that Henchard does not conform within society, and is different to others, thereby also linking to the idea of isolationism. Additionally the term "general" could be perceived as a subtle criticism of labourers who are deficient in specific skills or knowledge.

A slight judgemental and condemning tone can also be deciphered from the way a general labourer's walk is described as a "…desultory shamble," the adjective "desultory" conveys an idea of aimlessness and irregularity which further suggests a lack of effort or concern and casualness and this may be illustrative of their attitude or the way in which they work. The noun "shamble" depicts a shuffling walk provoking an idea of awkwardness and clumsiness and may also indicate the class of a general labour as being of the lower class as their movements lack grace. The overall impression conveyed is that Michael Henchard believes he is better than others or that he makes a concerted effort to portray the image that he is better than he is. From the start of chapter one, an idea proposed by Hardy is that...
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