Aristotle described a tragic hero as someone who has a fatal flaw that bring about ruin along with matters that are out of their own control. An example of this is Macbeth in the play written by Shakespeare where he gets himself into a position of eminence through sins but cannot stop his fate as it is left out of his control. The same can be said for Michael Henchard. We meet Michael Henchard first as a young hay trusser walking along the road leading to Weydon Priors with his wife and daughter. It soon occurs to the reader that there is some tension between husband and wife, underlined when Hardy describes, “she had no idea of taking his arm, nor he offering it”. I believe that this shows that Michael Henchard sees his wife as obligatory and is holding him back from making something of his life.
The next significant part in the story is in the ferimity tent of the village fare. This helps underline a drink problem with Henchard that later in life helps catapult Henchard to his downfall. Michael Henchard believes if he did not have to look after his wife and child he would be “worth a thousand pound”. This is merely an observation and many at this part in the story would not have believed him, but as we later find out this observation turns into the truth. Henchard sells his wife to a complete stranger from the back of the tent proving Henchard has no respect for his wife and child. Henchard is so selfish that he will just let his wife and child walk off with a man he has never met in his life before, ironically he did not even believe the stranger would pay the money for his wife and child. These sides of Henchard’s character eventually lead to his downfall and yet interestingly he has not even started to ‘make a man of himself’.
Michael at first cannot believe what he has done the morning after, but it soon occurs to him the terrible deed he has committed himself to. The oath that Henchard takes before God proves that Michael Henchard was feeling resentful and also showed that deep down without alcohol he could be a good man and makes us feel that he could be described as a tragic hero as we are shown such a contrast in character. Many would feel that this might even be a turning point in Michael’s life, as he will no longer be influenced at all by alcohol.
We next meet Mrs Henchard and Elizabeth Jane searching for and finding Michael through the window of the King’s Arms at a peak of his prosperity, it is interesting to question why Susan has even bothered come to find Michael. Susan may have even forgiven Michael for what he did in his life previously. The observation by Elizabeth Jane that the waiter does not fill the wine glass of Michael Henchard and instead by-passed him shows that Henchard has stuck to his oath and deserved praise that he had kept to his word. Henchard’s speech after the meal is noble and honest and showed another side of Michael Henchard, he was willing to dent his profit margin for the good of the people in Casterbridge.
The plea to anyone who can help resolve the problem results in his first encounter with Farfrae, the note that is left for Henchard must feel like a god send but may as well be Henchard death warrant. The way Henchard chases down Farfrae once again shows Henchard’s impatience, he can just act on a decision to employ someone like that in a matter of seconds just like the sale of his wife. At that moment he feels it is the right decision so he will just go ahead with the idea no thoughts to the consequences.
Henchard eventually persuades Donald Farfrae to come and manage his corn department, this again showed the ambitious and impatient side of Michael, as he cannot let anything go, the important characteristics of a tragic hero. The meeting with Jopp signals the beginning of the end for Michael. The way Michael treats the original applicant to the post is disgraceful and he blatantly points out “I have employed another manager”. Again it proves that Henchard has not thought things through and had Henchard been willing to compromise it may have prevented the bad taste being left in Jopp’s mouth. The revenge for Jopp comes later in the story forcing Michael to wonder why he did not treat him better.
After his fleeting meeting with Jopp his conversation with Elizabeth Jane forces Henchard to feel that life is treating him well, so well in fact that nothing can possibly go wrong. This helps lead Henchard into a false sense of security. Henchard at first does not seem at all engaged with Elizabeth Jane “Now then what is it” “he said blandly” showing that he had better things to be doing with his time. As the conversation develops Michael becomes more and more interested as Elizabeth reveals her identity. The letter that had enclosed five guineas, I feel shows that Michael feels he can just buy Susan back into his life, thus showing an ignorant side to Henchard’s character, if I was Susan I may even feel insulted by this gesture. His meeting with Susan shows the different side of Henchard once again.
The first thing he says to Susan is “I don’t drink”, thus showing Michael is trying to come across as rehabilitated person and that he wants to prove something. The next point that I notice about Henchard is that he has actually thought things through “I have thought of this plan” which includes Michael meeting Susan and eventually remarrying. Again, although Michael has thought things through, he has not asked Susan how she feels about remarriage, once again emphasising Henchards selfish side. The way that Michael feels he can just walk back into their life after 18 years of absence, especially after the way he treated them may be too premature and hasty.
After Michael had finished speaking to Susan he went back to the factory and found Farfrae still working and after contemplation he wishes to “speak to ‘ee on a family matter”. This is a mistake as he is really signing for his death. He tells Farfrae the whole story and feels that he can trust him. This again shows a naï¿½ve side of Michael as he is telling his dilemma to someone he met only a few days before. Henchard feels he will never fall out with Farfrae but within a few weeks they are having disagreements and start the build up to what becomes a fierce rivalry.
The disagreement over Abel Whittle’s punishment drives a wedge between Michael and Farfrae, which signals the beginning of the end of their relationship. It is ironic when Farfrae utters, “Not if I am manger” because as you read further this is the position that Farfrae later loses. The incident with the child must have annoyed Henchard as children are always believed to speak their mind and give an honest opinion as they are so naï¿½ve that they feel it is impossible to insult someone. This must have hurt Henchard also and left him with a hint of jealousy over Farfrae. There is a feeling of hostility between the pair from this point on. The planning of the fare added the match to the fireworks that were to follow. After the success of Farfrae and the failure of his own fare you can only say that the sacking of Farfrae was out of pure jealousy as “Mr Farfrae’s time as manager is drawing to a close”. You cannot blame Farfrae as he did not do anything wrong, you feel Michael was ‘cutting his nose to spite his face’.
The informing of Elizabeth Jane that she is in fact his daughter is a major mistake as Henchard later finds out. You feel that Henchard may be telling her now because Susan is dead and she cannot defend her daughter leaving Elizabeth Jane venerable to Henchard. Henchard is being very selfish when he tells Elizabeth Jane so soon after the death of her mother. Henchard seems more interested in Elizabeth Jane having her surname changed “You’ll take my surname now – hey” than the welfare of his daughter, again showing a very self-centered side of Henchard.
After Henchard opens the letter from Susan he realises that he has been too hasty but keeps the letter safe and decides not to tell Elizabeth Jane. This is a mistake because when it does come out it will backfire on Henchard even more than if he informed her now. She would give Henchard all the more respect for telling the truth.
The letter from Michael to Donald shows a noble side of Michael, as he does not wish to interfere with Donald and Elizabeth Jane’s relationship. Henchard’s actions in this part of the play are understandable as he realises that as Elizabeth is not his own so consequently he has no right to stand in her way. As the relationship gets more and more strained between Elizabeth and Michael he allows her to leave and live with Lucetta. Again I feel he allowed her to do this for the same reasons as above, he has no stronghold over Elizabeth. The letter that Lucetta sends to Michael forces him to think that things are looking up for him and that he is at the height of prosperity. In this invincibility he feels he does not have to see Lucettta and can just neglect her until she comes running, this proves to be a mistake and a fatal flaw in his invincibility.
This leaves the door open for Donald and he takes his chance with open arms by dropping hints like “maybe you’ll be very lonely”. When eventually Michael does turn up he expects Lucetta to drop everything and run to his call “I’ve called to say that I am ready”. When she does not he gets rude, arrogant and impatient with statements like “This stint of reciprocal feeling”. This is a horrible side of Henchard’s character and the invincibility he feels he had at that point in the story has just drained away. The meeting with all four of them for afternoon tea again brings out the inferior side of Henchard as he is determined to drive Lucetta into an early grave by dropping a variety of remarks about their time together in Jersey.
The employment of Jopp again is another major mistake and a catapult for Henchard’s downfall as Jopp still has the way he was treated before by Henchard at the forefront of his mind. This was again naï¿½ve on Henchard’s part as he should have realised that Jopp would have wanted revenge. Determined too get the better of Donald, Henchard visits the weatherman, this is again is an elementary mistake to make, as it is in the cycle of life that if you want something to happen so badly, it won’t. Henchard believes the weatherman and shows hastiness as he stakes his whole business on it, also showing a hint of desperation that getting the better of Farfrae is some obsession. Henchard after selling in a depressed market gets the feeling that nothing can go right for him after it turns out to be a good harvest after all. This shows impatience on Henchard’s part. Farfrae’s actions rubbed salt in the wounds and Henchard made the observation “he’ll soon be mayor”. This is ironic as it is not that much longer before Donald does become mayor and proves that in the right mentality, Henchard can make the right predictions.
As Henchard forces Lucetta to marry him this again shows one of Henchard’s lowest points in the play. He forces Lucetta to fall to the ground showing just how much Lucetta did not want the marriage to happen. This proves that Henchard cannot see through anybody’s eyes but his own, a complete contrast to when he was making his plea to anyone who can help make the wheat taste better. He will only ever worry about himself and his own problems. The trial of the furmity women is the problem that starts the ball rolling for Henchard’s downfall, although most notably he admits all the allegations. Henchard realises there is no use continuing to lie as he feels he is better telling the truth than denying the allegations. Later the real truth is revealed “the man who sold his wife in that fashion is the man sitting there in the great big chair”.
Henchard had not realised that the women on trial was the furmity women all those years ago. Henchard thought that he had covered all his tracks but he had miscalculated the power of the furmity women. Everything at this point in the play is starting to fall apart for Michael Henchard. Although the incident with the bull does provide a total disparity in Henchard’s character as he proves that he does not just live and work for himself. Despite the fact that as soon as the ordeal with the bull is over Henchard is up to his usual tricks again. He and Lucetta walk off together “She has gone on with Mr Henchard” is the reply when Farfrae asks about Lucetta. The conversation between Henchard and Lucetta is the pivot for the turning point in the story towards Henchard.
When Lucetta announces “Witness of my marriage” to Farfrae, Henchard is infuriated that Lucetta went behind his back. The reader understands that Henchard is too naï¿½ve to see that he put Lucetta under so much pressure that he forced her go give him her word. Lucetta is fired with insulting remarks such as “Oh you false women” proving that Henchard has still not learnt from his mistakes with his late wife. Although you understand why Henchard is so angry that of all people she had to marry it was Farfrae, his archrival and personal enemy.
The nature of Henchard’s bankruptcy must have been so demoralising although he only had his own rashness to blame. To rub salt in the wounds Farfrae bought everything of Henchard’s his house, business and furniture. This just annoyed Henchard even more. This proves that had Henchard not been so rash in employing Farfrae in the first place he would probably still be running a successful corn merchant business. The tables have turned on Henchard in more ways than one since the arrival of Farfrae in Casterbridge. Henchard now lodging with Jopp is now not even living for his pride. A year ago Henchard would have laughed at you if you told him that in a year’s time he would be staying with Jopp, but Jopp being the only person left in the world he can stay with he had no choice.
Although he is trying to keep his respectability in the way that he will not speak to Elizabeth Jane, when Elizabeth asked Jopp if she could see Henchard she was met with the reply “Not by his daughter” although Henchard thought he was doing the right thing it was just making Elizabeth feel more and more guilty proving that in these times of depression for Henchard he is still being selfish. Michael’s thoughts of emigrating mirror a complete role reversal for himself and Donald. When Donald arrived in Casterbridge it was Henchard the owner of the corn merchant and mayor who had to persuade Farfrae against emigrating but now Farfrae is owner of that very corn merchant and soon to be mayor. The irony at this part of the play is strange, Donald offering Henchard a place to stay at his old house.
The way in which Henchard declines shows to the reader that he still feels he has his pride and when Donald offers him his furniture he again declines maybe showing that he wants a fresh start. He feels that he is not worthy of receiving the furniture “I – sometimes think I’ve wronged ‘ee”. He shook Farfrae abruptly by the hand proving that he is a good man although it took all this time for Henchard to realise the mistakes he made. Proving that Henchard wants a fresh start “I have worked as a journeyman before now” also emphasising Henchard’s strong will as he believes he can get himself back to the height of prosperity that he once held in Casterbridge.
We are immediately fooled though as Henchard returns to the problem that drove him to where he is now, alcohol. Showing also that Henchard cannot realise that this is the ultimate flaw in his character. He does not understand that the drink got him where he is now. Had Henchard not returned to drink he could of earned himself some respect back from the people especially after Donald did the noble thing and bought Henchard a shop. Donald still went through with the idea even after he had heard that Henchard was at the Three Mariners “saying in public that about you which – a man ought not to say about another”. Showing faith in Henchard and going through with his plans shows that Farfrae still believes he would not be in the position he is in now without the help of Henchard.
The way in which Henchard makes a fool of himself in front of the royal visitor proves the level to which Henchard had stooped. He reinforces the idea that alcohol is not the right thing for him to drink and also proving how much damage alcohol has done to him over the years. Henchard reinforcing the idea that as a sober man he could do so much good for the public as he runs to warn the departing Farfrae that his wife is ill “Come back to Casterbridge at once”. The way Farfrae does not believe him shows how Henchard has cried wolf once too often. Farfrae feels Henchard is up to something and is planning some sort of decoy “don’t distrust me” cried Henchard confirming that he realises how Farfrae is feeling. Newson turns up just as Henchard is feeling that things cannot get any worse revealing the truth to Elizabeth Jane.
This makes Henchard out to be even more of a liar and loses trust from Elizabeth Jane. The suicide attempt is just a sign that everything has shut down for Henchard. He now does not even have Elizabeth Jane to live for although ironically it is she who prevents him from jumping as she try’s to persuade him “Let us go home.” I feel it could have only been Elizabeth who could have stopped him from jumping, as she was the final thread that let everything go, she was the only person who could put everything right.
Henchard’s announcement that he is leaving comes as a shock to everyone and most of all Elizabeth Jane when he announces that he is leaving Elizabeth replies “Leave Casterbridge!” This is selfish of Henchard as he is leaving Elizabeth to run the shop on her own and I feel he is only leaving because he feels sorry for himself and just wants some attention. He is really just acting like a small child and has gone into a sulk. The discussion between Henchard and the market trader proves to be a demoralising experience as he is told of the marriage “Surely they said there was a wedding coming off soon.” This proving Henchard’s suspicions.
The arrival of Henchard back in Casterbridge proves that Henchard feels he has been left out. He is greeted only to be insulted by Elizabeth Jane when she refers to him as “Mr Henchard” proving that she has no real feelings for him after the way he has treated her in the past and it is understandable that she refers to him the way she did. Although it must have annoyed Henchard as he replies, “Call me worthless old Henchard” underlining that he does not believe he should be treated in that way.
The fact that Donald and Elizabeth show that they still have some feelings for him even though he has treated the pair of them so badly in the past. The will that Henchard leaves proves to the reader that he realises what an appalling live he has lived especially the way he has treated his friends, members of his family, and workforce as he writes “may no man remember me”. This underlines the fact that he just wants to be forgotten and makes sure that everyone leaves him in the past. This is the one thing Michael can actually see and realise that he has not treated people with respect and he deserved to die alone with “no mourners ……at my funeral”.
I feel Henchard can be described as a tragic hero as he fits the frame for my description earlier on. He have two vital flaws in his character, hastiness and naivete, which eventually lead to his downfall from prominence. The other factor is hastiness for example when things are out of the person’s control and in this case when the bad weather occurred around the harvest time. By showing no self-control and being so hasty it turned out to be obvious that Henchard’s fall was going to be fast and dramatic making him the perfect character to base a story around.