Hardy wants us, the reader of his novel, to be more than casual observers. Another reason why the opening paragraph is of significant importance is the fact that most good novels will tell how to read them in the opening paragraphs. And the Mayor of Casterbridge certainly does belong to these kind of novels. Due to this, we have to pay attention to small details in the novel in order to get things right and not to misjudge someone. In the opening paragraph, Michael Henchard and his wife Susan are approaching the village Weydon-Priors with their child Elizabeth-Jane on foot.
The family looks like they are poor. However, they are plainly dressed, not badly dressed. The reason why their clothes look bad is not due to the fact that they are shabby or broken.
Their clothes look bad simply because they are full of dust. For this reason, Henchard and his wife look worse than they usually do at that moment. Therefore the two of them are at a disadvantageous situation now. Right after, Hardy not only tells us what Henchard does for a living, but he starts to look and to describe him carefully.
At least the first impression we get of Henchard is not a very pleasant one. The opening scene continues by telling us more of the relationship between Henchard and his wife Susan and thus allows us to get a clearer picture of the two of them and their characters.
An Analysis of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge Essay
Even though the couple is walking next to each other, neither Michael nor Susan utters a word. As they are walking in total absence of conversation, Henchard is reading- or at least he is pretending to be reading. He is not paying any attention to his wife or his child at all. His wife on the other hand is the one who makes them walk together, even though she is not happy at all with the situation and does not feel comfortable.
However, Susan does not touch Henchard, for example by taking his arm while walking, for he might would not like it. It seems like she does not want to make things difficult for her husband, maybe she can be considered to be a weak woman. The situation and the relationship is not like this just now, but rather all the time: Henchard and Susan are always quarrelling.
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Even their attitude towards the landscape is negative. They see nothing pretty in it and it is always the same, just like their relationship.
To sum up, the opening paragraph is not a very happy scene, but rather a quite nasty way for a novel to start. However, the opening scene gives us crucial and important information about the character of Michael Henchard. We get to know Henchard as a pretty unlikeable, grim fellow. It is obvious that he is stuck in an unhappy and bad marriage. Nevertheless, Michael is not willing to change anything in order to improve the current situation. He refuses not only to talk to her, but also to walk close to her.
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It is Susan and not Michael who makes the couple walk next to each other. Therefore, his wife and not Henchard is the one who at least tries to work on their relationship. In contrast to her husband, Susan did not give up hope totally and at least tries to keep the family together. Henchard on the other hand would certainly prefer to escape from this unhappy marriage, if he were only given the chance to. He sees the marriage as a burden, and as a divorce is not possible, selling his wife is the only way out. It seems like that he thinks that he leads a life of hardships, and that he always has to take on a burden like his marriage for example.
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Essay on the mayor of casterbridge novel
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