In his novel, The Mayor of Castenbridge, Thomas Hardy carefully crafted the main character, Michael Henchard, in such a way that the reader would find him both deeply flawed as well as sympathetic. Hardy is able to accomplish this through the many misfortunes that Henchard experiences, which turn out to be due to his flawed personality as well as fate (or bad luck). Hardy often juxtaposes Henchard’s personality flaws with some possible streak of bad luck. This paper will outline and analyze how Henchard’s flawed personality characteristics and fate resulted in Henchard’s many misfortunes, and ultimately his death.
Some of Henchard’s personality characteristics that contributed to his downfall were impulsivity, bad temper, excessive pride, and jealousy. At the same time; however, many of the misfortunes were riddled with circumstances that also seemed to be out of his control. One example can be seen at the beginning of the novel when Henchard gets drunk and sells of his wife and daughter. This could have been due to his impulsivity (a character flaw) or drunkenness (somewhat less in his control if considered an addiction or disease), or something else like bad luck. It is true that he auctioned off his wife and daughter while under the influence of alcohol, but it is just coincidence that the woman happens to have rum that she is able to spike his furmity with? This is ironic considering the fact that he initially wanted to go into a beer tent, but his wife convinced him to go into the furmity tent. It could also be argued that it is plain bad luck that the highest bidder happens to be a sailor. This means that he is not local and will likely leave town, making it much harder for Henchard to see his wife and daughter again.
Another example was in Chapter 27, where Hardy refers to Henchard’s impulsivity when he says, “But the momentum of his character knew no patience.” Here he was describing how Henchard could have avoided loss during the eve of the harvest, had he waited long enough and not sold off everything so impulsively. Immediately; however, Hardy states that Henchard thought, “that some power was working against him.” Apparently these moments of “superstition” came to him when he was feeling depressed. It is ironic; however, that Henchard decided to sell these off according to a weather forecast and due to “bad luck” the weather improved, which made the grain prices fall. It is hard to say here weather his misfortune was due to bad luck or his personality. It seems as though Hardy purposely intertwined the two to give the reader a combination of sympathy and antipathy towards Henchard. On one had, the reader feels sorry for him, but on the other hand, the reader dislikes him for acting so foolishly.
Henchard’s misfortune can also be seen in the deterioration of his relationship with Farfrae. It is clear that Henchard’s pride and jealousy could not handle the fact that Farfrae was more popular and successful than he was. As a result, he broke off his relationship with Farfrae and prevented Farfrae’s relationship to progress any further with Elizabeth-Jane. Farfrae never saw him as a rival and had he been more reasonable and levelheaded, he could have continued to prosper alongside Farfrae. It can be argued that fate also played some role in this demise because maybe had he known earlier that Elizabeth-Jane was not his biological daughter, he would have been less jealous of Farfrae. This fate of not knowing ultimately leads to his demise because once he find out, he snubs Elizabeth-Jane, coming to regret his decision later. Even though he tries to reconcile on her wedding day, she wants nothing to do with him. Although she changes her mind soon after, it is too late and she finds that both Henchard and the goldfinch have both died.