A Novel Analysis of The Mayor of Casterbridge

In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy portrays the relationship between Henchard and Elizabeth as one full of tension and stiffness .

To start off, the beginning of this passage illustrates the reunion of the father and daughter as awkward and uncomfortable. Hardy uses adverse diction to feature the distance and awkwardness between Henchard and Elizabeth throughout his passage, starting with, “enigmas” and “confronted” (1). Enigma describes something puzzling, or something that is a mystery. It is peculiar and unusual for anyone to introduce themselves as an enigma, especially since it is characterizing Henchard, a character that has been introduced at this point. Enigma also describes Henchard and Elizabeth’s relationship as being puzzling or mysterious due to their reunion consisting of “coldness” and “open chiding”, instead of being an uplifting and joyous moment. In conversation, Henchard responded “sharply” to Elizabeth, who “reddened with shame and sadness” ( 9-21). More of the negative words that arise in their dispute builds the tension between the father and daughter. Hardy’s use of diction, portrays Henchard as a bitter, strict man, who takes control of Elizabeth’s actions, because she is soft. Henchard only cares about himself and believes everything should be about him, which is why he abuses the relationship he has with his daughter and takes advantage of her delicate personality. Henchard’s stiffness that is shown through Hardy’s word choice is what causes the strain and stress between Elizabeth and Henchard, and the way that Hardy portrays Elizabeth through his diction also displays how uncomfortable she is in the relationship with her father.

Furthermore, the unrealistic expectations that Henchard has towards Elizabeth adds a burden to their relationship. Hardy uses a demanding and superior tone through Henchard, to portray these expectations. Henchard orders for Elizabeth to, “just write down what I tell you”, instead of explaining to her what he expects, which has potential to lessen the strain between them (48). Elizabeth always doing what she is told and trying her best to fulfill her father’s improbable expectations, “started the pen in an elephantine march across the sheet” (56). She puts in the effort to abide with her demanding and controlling father. Henchard also explains that Elizabeth had a lot in store “in the manner of her handwriting”, and believes “that brisling characters were as innate and inseparable a part of refines womanhood” (41, 62-63). Considering that Henchard is now a prosperous mayor in a small town, Elizabeth is a constant reminder of who he used to be, and he does not like being reminded of that, especially seeing it come from his daughter. He dislikes seeing his old, unethical actions coming through in Elizabeth, and he wants to cease it while he can. He uses his superior tone in order to change Elizabeth from following in his footsteps. He feels the obligation to form her into a successful woman, and by demanding better handwriting the process is afoot.

Lastly, the more Elizabeth tries to settle their tensions, the more hopeless it becomes. Hardy utilizes a paradox, an irresolvable, contradicting moment to show this despondency . In many relationships, if strain arises between the two people, and someone works to make it better, it will get better. The relationship between Henchard and Elizabeth proves this wrong. Many instances have risen where Elizabeth wants to please her father, but gets nothing in return. Elizabeth made an effort to aid her father by producing “a line of chain-shot and sandbags” and Henchard responded, “reddened in angry shame”, arbitrarily proclaiming, “‘Nevermind-- I’ll finish it’” (68-70). This does not break Elizabeth from wanting to reach her high expectations, or to get approval from her father, so she continued to “saddle herself with manual labors”. She would get “ down on her knees, shovel in hand,” as if this was not enough, she was yelled upon by Henchard for “persistently thank[ing] the parlour-maid for everything” (74-80). Elizabeth does not know how to cope with her father because every time she tries to please him, she just distances farther from him. Henchard acts as though everything is about him, and only him, making it difficult for Elizabeth to ever please him. Nothing she could do would ever meet his expectations, so she fails every time making him more angry, which bothers her continuously, therefore creating the strain.


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