Dubliners and The Mayor of Casterbridge Character Comparison
Is fate in one’s control? Some may say that a person’s future lies in the hands of his or her actions. The intelligent or ignorant decision they make places an immediate or long-term effect on the rest of that person’s life. Others may point to the fact that one can never know what is coming to them in the future. A person can make all the right decisions, but bad things still happen to them. Then, there are those in the middle who believe that it is a combination of both free will and decision making. Each of our experiences are both different and similar. Readers have seen how the lives of characters in the novels, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Dubliners, change dramatically or stay the same or both. The novels are overflowing with unattractive human behaviors, such as jealousy, drunkenness, and anger, that causes one’s demise or one to not advance in life. Characters such as Michael Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane, and Gabriel Conroy in “The Dead” and readers of “Counterparts” and “Eveline” in Dubliners have similar experiences in reaching the understanding that it is their decisions that determines the quality of their life.
Evil characteristics of humans ensure unhappiness and suffering. For example, Henchard and Conroy engage in relationships as a way of obtaining what they want. They give love to get love. For Henchard, it is clear that “there was no amatory fire or pulse of romance acting as a stimulant” in his decision to remarry Susan (Hardy 81). He only wants to “make amends” and “provide a comfortable home for Elizabeth-Jane under his paternal eye” because he feels that it is his moral duty (Hardy 81). He also is able to ease his conscience by fixing a terrible mistake that haunts him from the past. In the initial meeting between Henchard and Susan, he does not bring up marrying for love once, rather he asks Susan if she forgives him. Furthermore, Henchard is the “kind of man to whom some human object for pouring out his heat upon [is] almost a necessity” (Hardy 122). Henchard needs human interaction as a vent for his passionate nature. He is now at the point where “his wife [is] dissevered from him by death; his friend and helper Farfrae by estrangement; Elizabeth-Jane by ignorance” (Hardy 119). His loneliness, not love, prompts him to tell Elizabeth that her entire life is a lie and that he is her father. This puts Elizabeth in a highly emotional and sad state. However, once he discovers that Elizabeth is not his daughter by blood, he feels humiliated, “a miserable insipidity,” and as if the “fruition of the whole scheme” of marrying Susan for Elizabeth’s sake is “such dust and ashes” (Hardy 126).
He mixes his private life with his public life in that he treats his relationship with Elizabeth as a business transaction. He is only considering whether or not he profits, and he does not care about Elizabeth’s feelings. Similarly, Gabriel shows selfish love through his “keen pang of lust” and his desire to control his wife Gretta’s strange feelings in response to Mr. Bartell D’Arcy’s song (Joyce 216). As the couple walks from the house to catch a cab into Dublin, Gabriel becomes sentimental. He remembers the romantic courtship and “their moments of ecstasy” (Joyce 215). He is overcome with attraction and only wants to be alone with Gretta. This attraction is rooted not in love, but in Gabriel’s desire to control her. Finally, Gretta confesses that the song reminded her of her first love, Michael Furey. In a comparable fashion to Henchard’s reaction when he finds out that Elizabeth is not his daughter, Gabriel first becomes furious with the realization that he will never be “master” (Joyce 218). He then feels “humiliated” that while he is thinking of their “secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she [has] been comparing him in her mind with another” (Joyce 221). After Gretta falls asleep, Gabriel feels sadness when he finally makes the distinction between the love he feels and the aching love that is felt by Furey.
Additionally, in “Counterparts,” Farrington’s suffering stems from his anger and drinking problem. His tedious job is to copy documents for a difficult boss. The monotony of his job enrages him, and he only desires to escape it by having a “good night’s drinking” (Joyce 83). This activity of bar-hopping only creates more routine and anger as he continually spends money, consumes more alcohol, and tells boastful stories from his job about how he outsmarted his boss. Farrington never pauses to think about his actions or why feels such dissatisfaction just as Henchard. Henchard is Farrington’s equivalent when it comes to anger, drunkenness, and rashness. At eighteen, Henchard sold his wife to another man in a drunken rage. He continues to make reckless decisions afterward, which is seen when he wrestles and nearly kills Farfrae after he pulls Henchard away from the “Royal Personage” (Hardy 259). The equivalent of this act is Farrington beating his son for something as simple as letting the fire out. Both characters are unaware and unrelenting in their actions. They are stuck in a circle of high and low points because they are emotionally paralyzed.
Emotional paralysis when making decisions hinders the characters’ happiness and wishes. Whereas Farrington is paralyzed by his lifestyle, in “Eveline,” the main character freezes “like a helpless animal” as she is about to board a ferry to England, where she and Frank are to board a ship to South America (Joyce 34). Eveline wants to avoid “that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness” and to live a life of happiness with a man who gives “her life, perhaps love, too” (Joyce 33). Yet, she is gripped by fear of the unknown. She will never leave home and she will live the mundane life that she wants to escape because she is terrified of the future and unwilling to step out of her comfort zone. This mentality is parallel to Henchard’s progression as a character and his ultimate failure to change and redeem himself. For a brief moment, he sees that his rash, selfish, and childish behavior is stopping him from being happy. He wants to live a simple life with his step-daughter Elizabeth. Sadly, Henchard lies to Newson when he comes to Casterbridge to find his daughter. Henchard experiences paralysis and reverts back to his old ways as “the unexpected coming of Newson” causes a feeling of “greedy exclusiveness in relation to” Elizabeth (Joyce 289). Although Elizabeth has clearly shown to him that she deeply cares for him, he thinks that Elizabeth could not have a place for him as well as Newson. His fear of being lonely and losing Elizabeth causes his final humiliation as he is ostracized from her and dies in isolation. The experience of paralysis by these two characters shows that they are in a state of inaction and numbness. They are suspended in a position between life and death because they are slaves to their own impulses and emotions. This mirrors Gabriel own view of seeing himself “fading out into a grey impalpable world” where the dead meet the living (Joyce 225). He looks outside of his window to see the falling snow, a motif symbolizing his paralysis with his decaying and motionless marriage. He feels alone and accepts that he will eventually join the dead and will not be remembered. At least with death, these characters are freed from their misery.
It often takes a major or minor epiphany for the characters to understand their particular situation and to possibly remedy it. Despite Henchard’s mistreatment and disregard of her, Elizabeth cares for him when he is sick and expresses her concern when he is contemplating suicide. This changes his outlook and he “dreams of a future lit by her filial presence as though that way alone could happiness lie” (Hardy 286). He now sees Elizabeth’s example that true love is unconditional and is only concerned with the happiness of the other person. Gabriel’s epiphany that he does not truly love Gretta inspires him “to set out on his journey westward” (Joyce 225). There is now a possibility that Gabriel might get over his egotism and change his attitude towards Irish culture. The denial of his Irish heritage and lack of interest as compared to his wife is a partial cause of the paralysis of their marriage since he is unable to connect to Gretta in any meaningful way. Moreover, Henchard in his final estrangement also makes a journey. His willingness to suffer is apparent as takes up a job as a hay-trusser far from Elizabeth in order to spare her any discomfort. He feels that he is not worthy to live a life that he has not earned. It is Henchard’s willingness to suffer that makes him an admirable character. In the end, he dies alone in a humble cottage and his heroic determination is seen in his will where he wishes to not burden Elizabeth or anyone with a funeral. Indeed, Elizabeth is a character who suffers, just as Henchard and Farrington suffer. What is different with her, however, is the way that she confronts this suffering of life. During the time of Farfrae’s marriage to Lucetta, Elizabeth does not express her jealousy, hatred, or disappointment in any hurtful way. Instead, she chooses to improve herself by reading and learning. This highlights that she has a tremendous amount of resolve and natural dignity. She is able to accept the vicissitudes of life and move on without bemoaning them in a way that Henchard and Farrington are not able to.
Ultimately, the characters in The Mayor of Casterbridge and Dubliners are in full control of their fate. Important opportunities arise in both novels, such as the ability to escape to a better place in “Eveline.” The characters have to realize and make the right decision. This can take time as epiphanies often come after the occurrence of something important, which is observed with Henchard, Elizabeth, and Gabriel. Readers and characters should pause to self-reflect about the causes of their poor circumstances, unlike Farrington. They should never fear the hard decisions like Eveline because those are the types of decisions that help a person grow. Elizabeth’s attitude of accepting life for what it is and moving on without lamenting ensures her contentment because pain always comes before happiness.
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