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Geoffrey the Buttplug

            Despite the fact that The Mayor of Casterbridge is not a drama in which we vicariously participate by watching an action and identifying ourselves with certain characters on stage, we may argue that Michael Henchard satisfies many of the Aristotelian requirements for the tragic hero. His physical power and strong-willed determination to succeed, to expiate his sin, and to do what he feels is best for Elizabeth-Jane are consistent with the usages of his society--as are his impulsiveness, quick temper, and manly pride. Hardy reveals Henchard first as itinerant hay-trusser burdened by a wife and child as a sort of prologue; this antecedent circumstance renders his corporate and municipal rise all the more impressive, but also reveals how tentative this outward success is. As the suffering outcast whose daughter cannot reciprocate his affection, Henchard is far grander--and far more sympathetic--than the leader of the town council at the King Arms' dinner. As he falls socially, we tend to accept his sullenness and temper as part of the emotional makeup of this complex character. I am never sure as I re-read the novel's conclusion, however, as to whether Henchard satisfies the eighth point, except that his fate enriches Elizabeth-Jane's understanding of the human condition.
             In order that he appear to have the illusion of free-will in determining his fate, Michael Henchard's fate does not seem "inevitable," but the result of a very Victorian series of coincidences that result in his poverty, exile, and alienation. Like Shakespeare's King Lear, even in his youth Henchard is one who but scantily knows himself (Hardy's phrase is "introspective inflexibility"), and permits his passions, especially the desire to save face in the furmity vendor's tent, to overwhelm his common sense. His is a pathological tragic flaw, for he makes much the same mistake when he fires Farfrae out of jealousy.

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