The Mayor of Casterbridge Essay

The themes imbedded in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge are a clear reflection of 19th century attitudes. During the Victorian era there was a strong class emphasis, women were second-class citizens, and there was a culture of prudishness and sexual repression.

In this essay I will examine three specific themes and how they reflect the values and attitudes of the 19th century. Firstly I will analyse the importance of reputation, followed by the function and role of females in a patriarchal society. Finally I will look at marriage out of economic necessity and how the novel portrays this.The importance of reputation is a constant theme that stems from the rigid social structure of the 19th century. The structure of the social classes created a large amount of social exclusion and exploitation. This was due to the distinguishable inequalities between the classes – such as wealth, power, authority and working conditions.

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The Novel illustrates this when Susan speaks to Elizabeth regarding her ‘inferior’ job at the King of Prussia hotel, a job that reflects low status and lack of wealth. She states “On no account ought ye to have helped serve here to-night.Not because of ourselves, but for the sake of him. If he should befriend us, and take us up, and then find out what you did when staying here”. Susan’s words “not because of ourselves” demonstrate the theme the strongest. Susan speaks as if she has no choice to choose how people regard her – only that if she does not act of the highest status that she may be rejected from both Henchard and society. Henchard too regards reputation with the utmost importance.In the early pages of the novel, while Henchard is searching for his wife he asks “Did I tell my name to anybody last night, or didn’t I tell my name? Immediately we see, despite Henchard’s regret for his actions, he is more concerned with his reputation.

Henchard asks about his ‘name’ for fear that it may have lost its power to be publicly recognized for achievement and reliability. The function and role of women in a patriarchal society was primarily to aid a man. In the 19th century males believed that they should aspire to the roles that have highest status in a society. Women, on the contrary, remained submissive and repressed. Without a man, women had very few opportunities.The novel clearly expresses this inequality through Susan’s note to Henchard; she writes “I have done it for the best.

I shall be in my grave when you read this, and Elizabeth Jane will have a home. ” The emphasis is that “Elizabeth Jane will have a home”. Without a husband (achieved through reputation) Elizabeth Jane could be homeless and never have exceeded a middle class lifestyle. Susan goes to great lengths in the novel to advance Elizabeth-Jane. Susan is the ideal 19th century woman. She is passive, nurturing and knows her place in society.

She believes her role is to support Henchard and his constant sense of social responsibility. Susan has a basic attitude that urges politeness and prosperity. She is careful to never express too much emotion as the narrator observes “she ascended in her daughters rear {towards Henchard} as soon as she could do so without showing exceptional eagerness. ” Susan sadly lives her entire life without ever discovering her individual beauty.

Throughout the novel she is somewhat of a shadow character, which is there only to aid another male character. Susan shows us the repressive nature of women in the 19th century.In this patriarchal society, marriage became an economic necessity. Women became dependant on their husband’s occupations to support them and their children.

Men contributed to this by believing that it was their duty to ‘rescue’ women from social exploitation – such as Henchard’s attempts to rescue Lucetta. Henchard states to Lucetta “It was my duty not to let any unnecessary delay occur before putting things to rights”. Both Henchard and Lucetta see marriage as a duty, and finalizing the deal has more financial connotations that loving ones.Marriage is reoccurring in the novel – firstly between Susan and Henchard for the sake of tradition, the second time for reputation. Lucetta and Henchard’s arrangements regard money, and Elizabeth’s wedding plans seem to revolve around her insecurity. All of which allude to marriage as an act of principle rather than of adoration.

After reading The Mayor of Casterbridge we realise that a sudden injection of wealth, and therefore power, into 19th century society created a feeling of insecurity in the lower classes.Classes became distinct and forced people to value reputation above all else. Throughout the novel there is a constant sense of social responsibility, and an attitude of acceptance that prevented women from breaking out of their typical role in a patriarchal society. Marriage was forced upon many people and became an act of economic necessity. The Victoria era was an age of paradox and power, and The Mayer of Casterbridge reinforces the themes of reputation, patriarchal society and marriage as necessity.


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