Business and Businessman in The Mayor of Casterbridge

That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.

& that I be not bury’d in consecrated ground.
& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.

& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.
& that no murners walk behind me at my funeral.
& that no flours be planted on my grave.
& that no man remember me.
To this I put my name.
Michael Henchard

This is not the typical last few words of somebody who has been a successful businessman, but Thomas Hardy made it as the last will of his protagonist in his novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. The story of its protagonist Michael Henchard is a story of a man of character, despite the fact that his last will requests that no man should remember him.

The story started when Henchard, then very drunk, auctioned off both his wife and baby daughter. The next morning, he was filled with remorse and tireless searched for his family.

“If I had only got her with me—if I only had!” he said. “Hard work would be nothing to me then! But that was not to be. I—Cain—go alone as I deserve—an outcast and a vagabond”

 At early as then, the readers can tell that the story would revolve on how would Henchard continuously suffer the guilt he felt on this day.

 “She’s gone–to be sure she is–gone with that sailor who bought her, and little Elizabeth Jane. We walked here, and I had the furmity, and rum in it–and sold her.”

It is no doubt that the story is a tragic one. Henchard continues to punish himself for the mistakes of the past. Despite his success and determination, his life is full of struggles and hardships. When Farfrae’s success is on the rise, in direct contrast to his, he requested him to resign and stop courting Elizabeth-Jane. Thomas Hardy appropriately used the phrase Character is Fate, from the 18th century German novelist and poet.

Character is Fate, said Novalis, and Farfrae’s character was just the reverse of Henchard’s, who might not inaptly be described as Faust has been described—as a vehement gloomy being who had quitted the ways of vulgar men without light to guide him on a better way.

Isn’t it sometimes ironic to note that business could be like this? Henchard was a true businessman. The novel did not show he has become a successful grain merchant from just being merely a hay-trusser, but one is safe to assume that it is through hard work and determination. After Henchard lost his wife Susan and daughter Elizabeth-Jane in a silly auction, he vowed never to touch wine again for as long as he has lived so far, 21 years.

Henchard has been known for his sobriety, although nobody in Casterbridge really knew what pushed him to make that oath. Still everybody admired his loyalty and sense of willpower – the very characteristics necessary for every businessman. To be able to make a successful business, one must have those characteristics to hold on to when times seem tough.

Another noteworthy characteristic of Henchard is the value he puts on his name. From the morning he learns of the sale of his wife and baby daughter to the sailor Newson, he was concerned if he told anybody of his name. He did not want anybody to associate his name to the dreadful and humiliating deed that he has done. Henchard, on his rise to become one, if not the most, prominent person in Casterbridge has only got himself. For somebody who doesn’t have anybody else, it is obviously important to him to take care of his character and reputation, because that’s all he’s ever got. Businessmen are like that. They hold much, if not too much importance in their name. That can be understood as most businesses would require the businessman to really have a good name to be able to successfully conduct the business to the people.

When Farfrae entered the picture, his characteristics are in direct contrast to Henchard’s. Hardy acts as how he looks, course and bullish, but we know that Farfrae, looking a little weak, acts based on what his intellect dictates. The Mayor of Casterbridge, thus shows the two evident types of businessmen. While Henchard’s strong and bullish personality worked in getting him on top of the business, it wasn’t enough to hold on to that. He solicits the help of Farfrae whom he hires as his general manager. However, feeling insecure, he always seem to insist on a competition, which he constantly losses. Because of this, Farfrae’s popularity and fortune grew, in direct contrast to that of Henchard’s.

The Mayor of Casterbridge is definitely a story of struggle. It shows how a man tries to continually make amends of the past. He refuses to let go whatever wrong that has already been done, although he has acknowledged that he won’t ever be able to change them.

A Plot, or Tragedy, should arise from the gradual closing in of a situation that comes of ordinary human passions, prejudices, and ambitions, by reason of the characters taking no trouble to ward off the disastrous events produced by the said passions, prejudices, and ambitions.

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