Although it makes much less use of the physical environment than do the others, we still cannot ignore the frequently use of symbols and setting in the novel. In my essay, Ill analyze the function of the symbols and the setting in The Mayor of Casterbridge. THE SETTING AND SYMBOLS IN THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGEThe setting place of this novel is Casterbridge (England), a fictional town based on the city of Dorchester. Unlike the other Wessex novels, the action does not revolve from place to place, but instead; everything is centered on the town, which characters leaving or entering Caseterbridge. as they are mentioned in the tale. At this extent, the town does have some features, which are important to the novel.
Definitely, it would not at all surprising us that Hardy gives a perfect description of the Wessex countryside, the detailed accounts of the daily goings in Casterbridge, even the dialects of the natives. By doing so, Hardy made us feel that we —-the readers, are living in Casterbridge, were undergoing all the events with the tragic hero —Henchard. I think the settings here act as the symbolic reflections of impressions and get readers more involved in the novel. For instance, in the first few chapters, Hardy goes out of his way to describe the very atmosphere of Casterbridge, its Roman ruins, its market place, its inns, its grizzled church, its High Street with its timber houses, its old gardens full of bloody warriors and snapdragons, its disputable Mixen-Lane, its two bridges towards which gravitated all failures of the town.
All these remind us that Casterbridge is dull and forbidden, full of age-old traditions and very much dependent upon agriculture for its subsistence. No wonder that Henchard has the stubborn, hardy, rude and instinctive sprit of the old-time country. With this kind of impression in our mind, we even can foresee the struggles between Henchard and Farfrae. With different living backgrounds, or to be more specific, the different living settings, when they clash, it is not only a disagreement between two men, but a conflict between age and youth, tradition and innovation, and emotion and reason. Henchard, for example, is the mayor of the Casterbridge that has remained untouched by modernism.
He runs the town by traditional customs. He manages his books in his head, conducts his business by word of mouth, and employs the aid of weather prophet—already obsolete in many parts of the country at that time, in order to determine the success of a harvest. But when Farfrae arrives, he brings with him a new system of organization that changes Casterbridges grain business, making it more efficient and more depending on the technology. Besides this, Hardy uses the setting to present the mood of his story. For instance, in Chapteru,Henchard and Susan meet in a gloomy, ancient ruin.
By choosing the Ring as the setting, Hardy intends to tell us that their marriage will not be successful. For Henchard thought his wife was a burden to him even eighteen years ago, only because the feeling of guilty, he determines to make demands for the past by remarrying her. So Henchard chooses the Ring as their meeting place, for he does not want others to know his past. Susan, too, seems to feel that everything is not as simple as Henchard would like to have it. Even Hardy himself makes a point of telling us that the true lovers do not go to the Ring. Another point I want to emphases is the fact that Hardy is a poet as well as a novelist (John, Holloway, 197).
Hardy himself preferred poetry to fiction. This has important results for his novels, as he tended to think in poetic term. And he use poetic devices- symbolism quite often in his novels. (Ken, Sobol, 106). Hardy tends to use the objects, characters, colors to represent abstract ideas or concepts. Such as:The Caged Goldfinch—-In order to express his deep love to his daughter, Henchard visits Elizabeth Jane on her wedding day, carrying the gift of a caged goldfinch.
He leaves the bird in a corner while he speaks to his stepdaughter and forgets it when she coldly dismisses him. Days later, maid discovers the starved bird, which prompts Elizabeth Jane to search for Henchard, whom she finds dead in Abel Whittles cottage. When Whittle reports that Henchard didnt gain strength, for you see, maam, he couldnt eat. He unknowingly ties Henchards fate to the birds: both lived and died in prison, been starved of love. The goldfinchs was quite literal, while Henchards was the inescapable prison of his own personality and his past.
Moreover, the use of symbols explains many other seeming coincidences and unbelievable occurrences (Ken, Sobol, 106). They are often meant to reveal something to the reader, rather than the pure fact. The arriving of the furmity woman, for example, symbolizes Henchards guilty past coming back to haunt him again. She is like his conscience, telling him that he is no better than the worst ones of Casterbridge. To his credit, to his belief, he does not attempt to deny his guilt.
And the effigy of Henchard, which he finds in the river, is symbolic of his state of mind. He wants to kill himself, therefore he see the portrait of him in the river. In this novel, symbols are used to describe other people as well. For Lucetta, even the name is symbolic.
The name Lucetta, like Farfrae is very interesting. Lucetta is a foreign name, not English, indicating that she id different from the Wessex natives. The name is romatic and attractive, just like the character of her, emotional and impulsive, given to quick decisions. When Hardy has Lucetta choose between two dresses, Lucetta picks the cherry colored one. That color symbolizes the skimmity-ride. – Even the most cursory reading of The Mayor of Casterbridge reveals a structural pattern that relies heavily on coincidence.
Indeed, the story would hardly progress if it were not for the chance occurrences that push Henchard closer and closer to the failure. For example, the reappearance of one long-lost character would test our willingness to believe, but here we witness the returns of Susan, the furmity-woman, and Newson, each of them brings a dark and fateful secret that contributes to Henchard’s doom. In real life anywhere conversations are not invariably overheard, kind of good sailor does not appear at the right time to buy wife, the weather does not always change just at the proper moment Although I, as modern reader, seems unlikely to excuse such over-determined plotting, with the help of the analyzing of the setting and symbols in the novel I attempt to understand it. Thomas Hardy said, in the novel, that, character is fate. Hardy’s reliance on coincidence relates directly to his philosophy of the world.
As a determinist, Hardy believed that human life was shaped not by free will, but by character, besides it, there are such powerful, uncontrollable forces as heredity and God. Henchard rails against such forces throughout the novel, lamenting that the world seems designed to bring about his demise. In such an environment, coincidence seems less like a product of poor plot structure than an inevitable consequence of malicious universal forces. At this extent, with the believe that both character and uncontrollable super nature force determined the fate, therefore the function of the using of setting and symbols in this novel is definitely clear, the setting present the mood and impressions of the story and the symbols reflect abstract ideas and concept. By using setting and symbols in the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, the coincidences and the uncommon behaviors became acceptable and believable.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE MAYOR OF THE CASTERBRIDGEBy Thomas HardyMacmillan and Co. , Limited ST. Martins Street, London 1947REFRENCE:Vivian, De Sola Pinto The Wessex Novels University College, Southampton, 1947Holloway , John The Victorian Sage: Studies in Argument, London, 1958.Sobol, ken Thomas Hardys The Mayor of Casterbridge, Simon&Schuster, 1964