The Mayor of Casterbridge

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How does Thomas Hardy create negative feelings in the reader towards the character of Michael Henchard in the first two chapters of his novel?Hardy uses many ways in the first two chapters to make the character of Michael Henchard appear negative and put the audience off him. The first example of this would be describing Henchard as "stern in aspect". This immediately creates a negative first impression. Next, the "perfect silence that preserved" is described in a way that suggests it is Henchard who has absolutely no desire to talk to his wife. This makes the readers think Henchard is a bad husband and ignores his wife. Their relationship is noted as having "the atmosphere of stale familiarity".

Arriving in Weydon Priors, Henchard finds out that there is not available work there and also no accommodation available for him and his family. This suggests that Henchard is not able to take care of his family properly and makes prospects look bleak for them.

The way he talks to the turnip-hoer makes him seem slightly condescending and rude; "phlegmatically" and "superciliousness".

As they arrive at the fair, Hardy makes it clear that Henchard has some sort a drinking problem. Instead of choosing the furmity tent where he can feed himself and his family, he "mentally weighed the two inscriptions and inclined to the former tent" which sold "Good Homebrew Beer, Ale and Cyder". This also makes him seem selfish and uncaring of his wife and young child's needs as he would rather get drunk than feed them. Even after his wife, Susan, convinces him to go to the furmity tent, he gets alcohol one way or another. When he notices that the old woman laces the furmity in rum "he winked to her" and "slyly sent back money in payment". This makes him seem sneaky, and a "perverse character". "His wife observed the proceeding with much uneasiness" showing that she is unhappy with his drinking and that perhaps he does it quite often.

The alcohol has a bad effect on Henchard, making him "argumentative", "overbearing" and "even brilliantly quarrelsome". He turns the conversation to"the ruin of good men by bad wives", and how marrying his wife has ruined his life and how he no longer wants her. "The frustration of many a promising youths high aims and hopes by an early imprudent marriage". His wife seemed "accustomed to these remarks" showing that Henchard has said such things before. This definitely shows that Henchard is a bad husband and the audience will not be liking him at all by this point.

He feels wives should be treated like animals and that men should be able to sell them off once they are bored of them, "get rid of 'em as these gipsy fellows do their old horses". Female readers would be very offended by this. When somebody tries to praise Susan, Michael makes a sarcastic comment regarding her appearance - "this gem o' creation". By openly insulting his wife and publically humiliating her, he is definitely seen as a villain and the readers will sympathise with Susan for putting up with him and his malicious, drunken comments.

A nearby "smoking gentleman" tries to compliment Susan, "I know true cultivation, or nobody do; and I can declare that she's got it - in the bone, mind ye, I say - as much as any female in the fair". He's trying to boost Susan as she is being repeatedly insulted by her own husband and shoe Henchard that he is quite lucky to be married to her. But Henchard "speedily lapsed into his former conviction, and said harshly: Well then, now is your chance; I am open to offer for this gem o' creation." When saying "gem o' creation, he is being sarcastic about her and readers will see this as a very nasty and cruel thing to subject his wife to, let alone in public.

Susan says "Michael, you have talked this nonsense in public places before. A joke is a joke, but you may make it once too often, mind". This, again, shows that Henchard has said things like this before and now Susan is reaching the end of her tether with him. Henchard replies to this with "I meant it. All I want is a buyer", showing that he is serious about selling her. Susan says "I wish somebody would. Her present owner is not at all to her liking" to which Michael replies with "Nor you to mine". This makes the reader think that if not even his wife likes him then he definitely not a nice person.

He continues to talk about getting rid of his wife in a way that suggests he doesn't care who buys her, he just wants her gone. "Will any Jack Rag or Tom Straw among ye buy my goods?" and "This woman is no good to me. Who'll have her?" make him seem almost desperate to get rid of her. Henchard's remark "She shall take the girl if she wants to, and go her ways" makes it seem that he doesn't care about his young daughter either.

Henchard confirms that he is serious about selling her by asking for an auctioneer so he can do so in public, right there. When somebody makes a joke offer, "five shillings", Henchard states that he "won't sell her for less than five guineas". This is obviously a very low amount of money to sell a human being, especially one who he was supposed to be in love with. He comes across as heartless to the readers.

When somebody, a sailor, makes an offer at five guineas, Henchard first reaction is to ask to see the money upfront, "Saying is one thing, and paying is another. Where's the money?" This makes him seem that he cares more about the money than who the man is that he considering selling his wife too. The sailor displays the money and while Henchard is contemplating what to do, his wife gives him one last chance to back out of the deal. "Michael, listen to me. If you touch that money, I and this girl go with the man."Instead of taking the chance of backing out of the deal at the last minute and keeping his wife and child, he "took the sailor's notes and deliberately folded them, and put them with the shillings in a high remote pocket, with an air of finality". He completes the deal by saying "she shall have the child, and the bargain's complete." Readers would be in disbelief that he actually followed through with his seemingly idle, drunken threats.

His wife's reacted to the sale by pulling off her wedding ring and throwing it into her now ex-husbands face. Her parting words are "Mike, I've lived with thee a couple of years, and nothing but temper." This suggests that she has had to put up with a lot of trouble being married to him. "Now I'm no more to 'ee; I'll try luck elsewhere. 'Twill be better for me and Elizabeth-Jane both. So good-bye." This shows that Susan realizes she means nothing to her husband and so she will try and find a better partner and father figure for her daughter with the sailor that bought her. She leaves the tent "sobbing bitterly" while "seizing the sailor's arm with her right hand, and mounting the little girl on her left." The readers, although feeling pity for her, will hope that she now has a better chance in life now that she no longer has to put up with Henchard.

As Susan leaves the tent, "a stolid look of concern" filled his face, showing that this had not ended he had hoped, or expected. Perhaps he was now feeling regret about his decision, as he starts to sober up. Some of the other guests laughed at him, showing that they feel that he definitely made the wrong decision and would be right in regretting it. However, Henchard makes no attempt to go after Susan.

Henchard stands up and walks to look out the entrance of the tent which his wife had just exited. Hardy notes the "difference between the peaceful of inferior nature and the wilful hostilities of mankind. In contrast with the harshness of the act just ended within the tent was the sight if several horses crossing their necks and rubbing each other lovingly." This is Hardy questioning how humans can be so cruel towards each other when animals of lower status are so loving towards each other and that perhaps humans should learn from the other animals.

A staylace vendor says what probably the whole tent is thinking, "Serves the husband well be-right. A comely respectable body like her - what can a man want more?" Another woman comments "well, the woman will be better off. For sea-faring natures be very good shelter for shorn lambs, and the man do seem to have plenty of money, which is what she's not been used of lately, by all showings." She is suggesting that Henchard doesn't have enough money to take care of her anyway, and that the sailor will be a much better provider for Susan and the child.

As Henchard starts to come to terms with what he has just done, he tries to make it seem that he does not care. "Mark me - I'll not go after her! Let her go. If she's up to such vagaries she must suffer for 'em." He's trying to shift the blame onto Susan and then claims she had no right to take the child. "She'd no business to take the maid - t'is my maid; and if it were the doing again she shouldn't have her!" This makes him seem hypocritical as he had said earlier that she may take the child. It also seems that his only regret is not keeping the child, which would have made it even worse for Susan, losing her husband and daughter at the same time. The readers would think that Henchard is very cruel and callous.

In the second chapter, Hardy describes Michael's first reaction when he wakes up in the furmity tent, which is not regret or concern, but to get away before his reputation is ruined. He worries if he told anyone his name the night before, and decides that he didn't. Hardy describes "His general demeanour was enough to show how he was surprised and nettled that his wife had taken him so literally."He carries on trying to blame Susan, saying "Yet she knows I am not in my senses when I do that" shows that he feels that Susan should know not to take him seriously when he has been drinking. "'Tis like Susan to show such idiotic simplicity. Meek - that meekness has done me more harm than the bitterest temper!" Henchard is not only criticising Susan by suggesting that she is stupid, but he also remains adamant that it is all Susan's fault and that she should have stood up for herself against him, although she did try to.

In his search for his wife and daughter he refused to reveal the whole truth about the reasons they had become separated as he was too ashamed and seemingly more worried about his reputation than finding his family. Not telling the whole story to the people he inquired "prevented Michael Henchard from following up the investigation with the loud hue and cry such a pursuit demanded to render it effectual."Upon discovering that "persons answering somewhat to his description had emigrated a little time before", he decided to stop searching and just give up on finding them. Again, this makes it seem that Henchard doesn't actually care that much about his wife and daughter and probably doesn't regret selling them a great deal.

The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) - Thomas Hardy