Study Guide

The Mayor of Casterbridge Fate and Free Will

By Thomas Hardy

Fate and Free Will

When she plodded on in the shade of the hedge, silently thinking, she had the hard, half-apathetic expression of one who deems anything possible at the hands of Time and Chance, except, perhaps, fair-play. (1.4)

We don't learn anything about Susan's background, but we learn enough from this passage to figure that her past wasn't very happy. She knows that life isn't fair, and she blames it on "Time and Chance" – things over which she has no control.

Lucetta seemed to reflect on this as on an unalterable, impartial verdict. (24.71)

Lucetta knows she has no control over her own aging, but it seems strange that she should accept Elizabeth-Jane's opinion as "an unalterable, impartial verdict."

It is not by what is, in this life, but by what appears, that you are judged; and I therefore think you ought to accept me – for your own good name's sake. (25.19)

Again, events in Lucetta's life seem to be outside her own control – she is judged by "what appears," not by "what is." Society's judgment on her dictates what she can and cannot do.

But the momentum of his character knew no patience. (27.4)

Henchard makes a lot of mistakes, but they are the fault of his personality. The narrator describes Henchard's "character" as if it were its own entity. He doesn't say, "Henchard had no patience," but rather that his "character knew no patience."

The movements of his mind seemed to tend to the thought that some power was working against him. (27.4)

Henchard is superstitious, and so many bad things happen to him that he can't help but wonder whether some force outside himself – some "power" – might be plotting against him. Of course, it isn't some abstract Fate that's causing Henchard's misfortunes – it's his own flaws and mistakes. (And the fact that he's a main character in a Hardy novel.)

"I wonder," he asked himself with eerie misgiving; "I wonder if it can be that somebody has been roasting a waxen image of me, or stirring an unholy brew to confound me! I don't believe in such power, and yet – what if they should ha' been doing it!" (27.5)

This is one of the rare moments when Henchard looks for a cause for his misfortunes outside himself. Generally he takes the whole blame for everything that happens to him; he doesn't try to shift it onto anyone else.

The retort of the furmity-woman before the magistrates had spread; and in four-and-twenty hours there was not a person in Casterbridge who remained unacquainted with the story of Henchard's mad freak at Weydon Priors Fair, long years before. (31.1)

Isn't it a strange coincidence that the old woman who sold Henchard the rum-spiked furmity the night he sold Susan should show up in Casterbridge years later? And that Henchard should be the justice of the peace listening to the complaint against her in court? Coincidence starts looking an awful lot like fate in this novel.

But her strong sense that neither she nor any human being deserved less than was given, did not blind her to the fact that there were others receiving less who had deserved much more. (45.32)

Fate is unkind to a lot of people in this novel, and Elizabeth-Jane seems more aware of the unfairness of this than any other character.