Mayor of Casterbridge


Mayor of Casterbridge
One of the most striking aspects of the novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, for example, is the role of festival and the characters' perceptions of, and reactions to, the festive. The novel opens with Henchard, his wife and baby daughter arriving at Weydon-Priors fair. It is a scene of festive holiday in which 'the frivolous contingent of visitors' snatch a respite from labour after the business of the fair has been concluded. Here Henchard gets drunk and vents his bitterness and frustration at being unemployed on his marriage. Henchard negates the festive and celebratory nature of the fair by his egotism. What the people perceive as a joke permissable under the rules of topsy-turvy, the licence of the temporary release from the world of work, Henchard means seriously and in that act which refuses the spirit of festival he places himself in a position of antagonism to the workfolk, an antagonism which grows with time. From this opening the motif of festival shadows the story and mimes the 'tragic' history of this solitary individual culminating in the ancient custom of the skimmington ride. This motif forms a counterpoint to the dominant theme of work and the novel develops on the basis of a conflict between various images of the isolated, individualistic, egotistical and private forms of 'economic man' (Bakhtin's term) and the collectivity of the workfolk. The many images of festivity - the washout of Henchards' official celebration of a national event, Farfrae's 'opposition randy', the fete carillonnee which Casterbridge mounts to receive the Royal Personage, the public dinner presided over by Henchard where the town worthies drank and ate 'searching for titbits, and sniffing and grunting over their plates like sows nuzzling for acorns', the scenes of revelry in the Three Mariners and Peter's Finger - culminate in ' the great jocular plot' of the skimmington. This 'uncanny revel', which like a 'Daemonic Sabbath' was accompanied by 'the din of cleavers, tongs, tambourines, kits, crouds, humstrums, serpents, rams'-horns, and other historical kinds of music' is completely hidden from 'official' Casterbridge for when the magistrates roust out the trembling constables, nothing is found: 'Effigies, donkey, lanterns, band, all had disappeared like the crew of Comus'. It is the last we hear of the workfolk's mocking laughter for ironically the very success of this resurgence of carnival prepares the way for its suppression.Elizabeth-Jane's marriage to Farfrae signifies the truimph of the serious, the organized, the moral, the rational, the final triumph of spirit over the disorganized, the passionate, the festive, the flesh. The essence of Elizabeth-Jane's character is restraint and, like Farfrae's, her actions are characterized by their'reasonableness' and her perception of the world is consistently 'tragical'. In the closing passages of the novel she reflects that joy is no longer an integral part of life but an interlude in a general drama of pain, a sentiment which signals the victory of Christian morality over passion, the final triumph of the morality of the pale Galilean. That certainly is Hardy's intention, but in the very ambiguity of that victory the limitations of the ideaology of the thinking world are revealed precisely through the 'colonial' status of the people over whom the new ideological forms now rule. Those ideological discourses which speak of unity and harmony and universality are put into contradiction by images of suppression, domination, conflict, not by virtue of the images per se but because they enable us to see the 'outside' of a discourse which, claiming to be universal, has no bounds.In their periodic outbursts of 'pagan' celebration the workfolk throw off the impositions of sobriety and respectability in a spontaneous rebellion against social order in which anyone who partakes becomes involved.
THE APPEARANCE OF WOMEN AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF WOMAN
In the structure of perceptions it is taken for granted that women's sight is determined in the main by the distracted gaze, their tendency to take the appearance for the essence expressed by Christopher Julian in relation to Ethelberta 'That's the nature of women--------they take the form for the essence.' This perception appears in The Mayor of Casterbridge as an authorial observation when Lucetta Templeman refuses to notice the impoverished Henchard because he appeared 'far from attractive to a woman's eye, ruled as that is so largely by the superfices of things'. Similarly when Giles Winterborne meets Grace Melbury