Study Guide

The Mayor of Casterbridge Dissatisfaction

By Thomas Hardy

Dissatisfaction

"I sank into one of those gloomy fits I sometimes suffer from, on account o' the loneliness of my domestic life, when the world seems to have the blackness of hell, and, like Job, I could curse the day that gave me birth." (12.21)

Job is a figure from the Old Testament. He is a good man who goes through a series of increasingly horrible misfortunes because God is testing his faith. How is Henchard like Job? His description of his gloom here sounds a lot like what we would call clinical depression.

Henchard bent and kissed her cheek. The moment and the act he had contemplated for weeks with a thrill of pleasure; yet it was no less than a miserable insipidity to him now that it had come. His reinstation of her mother had been chiefly for the girl's sake, and the fruition of the whole scheme was such dust and ashes as this. (19.48)

Henchard has looked forward to claiming Elizabeth-Jane as his own daughter for a long time. But when it finally happens, he discovers she's not his real daughter after all. More broken dreams!

"After that they were much apart, heard nothing of each other for a long time, and she felt her life quite closed up for her." (24.53)

Lucetta describes her past life to Elizabeth-Jane here. She felt hopeless when Henchard said he couldn't marry her, because her reputation was ruined and all of her friends had abandoned her. No wonder she felt that "her life was quite closed up for her."

"Here and everywhere are folk dying before their time like frosted leaves, though wanted by the world, the country, and their own families, as badly as can be; while I, an outcast and an incumbrance, wanted by nobody, I live on, and can't die if I try." (44.10)

Henchard feels like an outcast; no one cares whether he lives or dies, and yet he "live[s] on." He uses the simile of "frosted leaves" to describe people "dying before their time," perhaps because people have as little control over their deaths as they do over the weather.

The expression of her face was one of nervous pleasure rather than of gaiety. (44.14)

Even after she has married Farfrae and gotten everything she ever wanted, Elizabeth-Jane has a hard time being happy.

Michael Henchard's Will

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 [sic] walk behind me at my funeral.

&that no flours [sic] be planted on my grave.

& that no man remember me.

To his I put my name.

Michael Henchard. (45.27)

Henchard's final will and testament sums up the dissatisfaction of his life. He doesn't want to be remembered or mourned; he doesn't even want a grave marker.

"What bitterness lies there!" (45.29)

Elizabeth-Jane is saddened but not surprised by the "bitterness" expressed in her stepfather's final will. She knows how much disappointment there was in his life.

She knew the directions to be a piece of the same stuff that his whole life was made of, and hence were not to be tampered with to give herself a mournful pleasure, or her husband credit for large-heartedness. (45.29)

Elizabeth-Jane respects her stepfather's final wishes. She knows that he meant what he said – he really was that bitter in his final hours.

And in being forced to class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to wonder at the persistence of the unforeseen, when the one to whom such unbroken tranquility had been accorded in the adult stage was she whose youth had seemed to teach that happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain. (45.32)

The final lines of the novel reflect the pervading sense of dissatisfaction. Elizabeth-Jane, we're told, has learned that "happiness" is the exception in life, not the rule. Most of life is filled with "pain." Not a very cheerful note to end on, is it?