The Mayor of Casterbridge: Social Standards
What kind of person auctions off their wife and baby? In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy explores the personality of a man, Michael Henchard, who hands his family off to a stranger, Richard Newsom, for a mere five guineas. Oblivious to the consequences of such an act, Michael Henchard, intoxicated, lets go of his wife, Susan, and daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, who remain silent and unsure of what lies ahead. Just beginning his struggle in accepting standards of society, Michael Henchard realizes the disastrous effects of alcohol and promises to never drink again for twenty-one years. In his novel, Thomas Hardy examines the standards of society in Casterbridge at the turn of the twentieth century while detailing Michael Henchard's responses to these standards.
In addition to not tolerating alcoholics, people did not permit adultery. A couple stayed together a while before committing to marriage. Marriage lasted until death. People sought to keep their families together, and families existed as the basis of society. The husband worked to provide food, clothing, and shelter for his family, while the wife raised the children and kept busy with household chores. In order to gain respect, people composed themselves in a positive manner when in the workplace and all around. Political figures reflected the utmost dignity and honesty. People avoided working for and buying from people who lacked the respect of others in society. The wealthy helped the poor and people in society worked together to make their lives the best they could be.
In contrast to the many people who obeyed society's rules and aspired to follow these standards, Michael Henchard suffered dreadful consequences for failing to accept society's standards. First, he did not comprehend his actions at the auction. He could not explain the location or status of his wife and child. Not only did he not know if they were in good health, he did not...