The Mayor of Casterbridge
Man and the Natural World Quotes Page 1
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At that moment a swallow, one among the last of the season, which had by chance found its way through an opening into the upper part of the tent, flew to and fro in quick curves above their heads, causing all eyes to follow it absently. (1.37)
The swallow (a small bird, for those of you not into bird-watching) is a distraction to the people in the furmity-tent. They absent-mindedly watch it fly around and forget about the wife auction for a few minutes.
Hardy uses a lot of bird imagery in his novels and poems, and the birds almost always mean something. What is this swallow doing? It enters the tent by accident and is trapped there. No one tries to help it, but the people are distracted and momentarily entertained by its struggles. Hmm...this could be a parallel for Susan, couldn't it? Of course, the bird manages to free itself, and Susan does not, so the parallel doesn't work entirely. What do you think?
The sun had recently set, and the west heaven was hung with rosy cloud, which seemed permanent, yet slowly changed. To watch it was like looking at some grand feat of stagery from a darkened auditorium. In presence of this scene, after the other, there was a natural instinct to abjure man as the blot on an otherwise kindly universe; till it was remembered that all terrestrial conditions were intermittent, and that mankind might some night be innocently sleeping when these quiet objects were raging loud. (1.84)
The narrator compares the beauty of the sunset with the ugliness of the wife sale, suggesting that it's only "natural instinct" to feel like humans are a "blot" on the universe for allowing something so horrible to take place. But the narrator then reminds us that nature isn't always so beautiful and peaceful either.
The dense trees of the avenue rendered the road dark as a tunnel, though the corn-land on each side was still under a faint daylight; in other words, they passed down a midnight between two gloamings. (4.25)
Susan and Elizabeth-Jane enter Casterbridge through a darkened avenue of trees, and it's like walking through "a midnight between two gloamings." ("Gloaming" is twilight or dusk.) Sounds like a pretty ominous way to enter the town, doesn't it?