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Free Study Guide for The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy-MonkeyNotes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 31

Summary

After the 'furmity woman's' revelation, Henchard sinks further socially and financially. He loses on his wild speculations; one of his major debtors fails to pay him back; and one of his employees causes a serious financial loss due to an error of judgment. As a result, bankruptcy proceedings are initiated against him, and all his belongings are auctioned off. He goes to live with Jopp by the Priory Mill and refuses to see anyone, including Elizabeth-Jane.

Farfrae takes over Henchard's business and his workers. Even though they are paid less, they are happier, for Farfrae is a better boss and manager. Business continues to flourish, and Farfrae prospers.

Notes

It is one of the striking ironies of Fate that the once proud Henchard, who was the most prominent man in Casterbridge, has now sunk to the lowest level of society after the 'furmity woman's' disclosure. Financially, he is declared bankrupt and loses everything. Yet when bankruptcy proceedings are being initiated against him, he scrupulously maintains his sense of honesty and does not conceal any of his assets. It is his one redeeming grace.

Now that Henchard has lost everything, including his home, his fortune, and his future wife, it is ironic that he should go and stay with Jopp, the person Henchard fired and humiliated so badly that he swore revenge against Henchard. Perhaps, because he thinks he is no different than Jopp or the 'furmity woman', he seeks out their company, while shunning Elizabeth-Jane who he believes is far more virtuous than he.


This chapter further contrasts the dramatic fall in Henchard's fortune and the ascent of Farfrae. The younger man prospers because he has initiated sound business principles; Henchard fails because he is careless and driven by emotions and impulses. When Farfrae takes over Henchard's business, he assumes the power and financial status that Henchard once held.

CHAPTER 32

Summary

Henchard starts frequenting one of the two lower bridges, which attracts the fallen and emotionally despairing in Casterbridge. While contemplating his downfall, Henchard sees Jopp approaching. He tells Henchard that Farfrae and Lucetta have moved to his old house.

When Farfrae passes by, he stops to talk to Henchard. Being a kind man, he offers Henchard accommodation in his old house; Henchard declines the generous offer. Soon he falls ill due to exposure and damp weather. Elizabeth-Jane nurses him back to health. When he fully recovers, Henchard starts working as a day laborer for Farfrae, an ironic turn of events. When he hears that his boss is going to be the next Mayor, all his suppressed animosity and antagonism towards Farfrae resurfaces. He starts drinking for the first time in twenty years.

Notes

The chapter opens with a descriptive account of the two bridges of Casterbridge. What is striking is Hardy's psychological analysis of the type of people who frequent these bridges. They are symbolic of two types of failure: those who have always been poor and at odds with society and those who have fallen and are shamed by it. Henchard obviously falls into the latter category.

When Jopp arrives at the bridge, he plants a new seed of discontent in Henchard's mind, telling him that Farfrae and Lucetta have moved into his old house. It seems like he intentionally incites Henchard's anger and bitterness against Farfrae.

The irony in this chapter is clear. Henchard has nothing and is offered handouts by Farfrae, similar to Henchard's past offers to Farfrae when he was less fortunate. What is totally frustrating for Henchard is that Farfrae has usurped all that he formerly had--the woman he planned to marry, his home, and even his stepdaughter, who politely declines Farfrae's offer to stay with him and Lucetta. The final irony in the chapter is that Henchard begins to work as a day laborer for Farfrae, just as Farfrae become the Mayor of Casterbridge. It is too much for Henchard to handle, and he begins to drink again after more than twenty years of abstinence.

An important development in this chapter is Henchard's reconciliation with Elizabeth-Jane. When he falls ill, she nurses him back to health. She is truly a kind person and the only one in town who has not forsaken Henchard. In fact, she barely reacts to the news that Henchard sold Susan and his daughter.

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