Mayor Of Casterbridge
In Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor Of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard represents an
incarnation of the Classical ‘tragic hero.’ In Greek literature, a tragic
hero is a well-known and respected individual whose tragedy usually involves
some kind of fall from glory. His downfall has been precipitated by his own flaw
of character or judgment, some mistake or series of mistakes that has serious
consequences. A key element is that the hero\'s experiences don\'t simply end with
the mistake or catastrophe; true tragic heroes must come to discover or
recognize what has happened to them and ultimately pay their ramifications.

Surely such a description fits the hubristic Michael Henchard and maps out the
tale of events set forth in The Mayor Of Casterbridge. The definition of a
tragic hero includes his fall from glory, which in early 20th century literature
would be social-class related. Henchard’s rapid decline from Mayor to pauper
qualifies as such a fall. It is even more of a tragedy since there was so much
embarrassment and scandal surrounding his deterioration from a pillar of the
town of Casterbridge. "Everybody else, from the Mayor to the washerwoman,
shone in new vesture according to means; but Henchard had doggedly retained the
fretted and weather-beaten garments of bygone years." (Page 261) His ragged
appearance at a royal procession shows just how deep he had fallen into
depression and oblivion. Though modern usage of the word ‘hero’ indicates a
nobler persona, at its roots a hero is simply the main character of any story,
and not necessarily a knight in shining armor. A tragic hero’s sad story comes
from his own flaws, and Michael Henchard was certainly not lacking in faults and
poor judgments. Often he displays impulsiveness, which always results in
bringing him closer to his demise. As with selling his wife, deciding to hide
his past grievances, and buying over-priced grain, Henchard’s lack of
self-control worsens each situation. He is also a very proud man, which turns
into simple stubbornness. On page 259 he indignantly proclaims: "’I’ll
welcome his royal highness, or nobody shall!’" showing his childish need for
control and superiority. His poor judgment in dealing with his feud with Donald

Farfrae shows what a weak character he really is. All of Henchard’s offensive
qualities gradually alienate all those around him. The final characteristic of a
tragic hero’s saga is his realization of his mistake as well as the endurance
of the consequences. In Henchard\'s case, the original mistake was the sale of
his wife Susan two decades prior. His affliction begins almost immediately as
his mistake is realized; he vows to abstain from alcohol for twenty-one years
("’...being a year for every year that I have lived.’" Page 25) But, as
the reader begins to realize, Henchard has only gone through the motions of
repentance, and as soon as he is faced with adversity, his rougher qualities
still surface. "...it was still a part of his [Henchard’s] nature to
extenuate nothing, and live on as one of his own worst accusers."(Page 322) So
since his self-inflicted punishment is only half-hearted, Hardy has Fate or

Consequence step in to sufficiently burden him with hardships until his death.

The theme and spirit of tragedy found a new vehicle in the novel in the 19th
century, its form being originally used only in plays. Thomas Hardy has been
quoted as comparing the rural setting of this and other of his novels to the
stark and simple setting of the Greek theater, giving his novels something of
that drama\'s intensity and sharpness of focus. This grimly pessimistic view of
man\'s nature qualifies Michael Henchard as a Classical Tragic Hero; his own
inner faults ultimately bring him down from his high post. Darkness and doubt
blanket the tale with Michael Henchard’s forever unresolved and unpredictable
capacities for good, and for evil.