Study Guide

The Mayor of Casterbridge Dissatisfaction

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There are a lot of broken dreams in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Elizabeth-Jane is hopelessly in love with Farfrae for most of the novel and is forced to watch him marry her best friend. Henchard has big plans and watches them fall apart because of his own mistakes. Farfrae is the only character whose cheerful nature seems to leave him immune to the pervading dissatisfaction in this novel, and even he has to deal with some disappointments.

Questions About Dissatisfaction

  1. Even before Henchard loses his fortune, family, friends, and business, he seems unhappy. Was there ever any way for Henchard to avoid dissatisfaction? Why or why not?
  2. Elizabeth-Jane has as much reason as Henchard to be unhappy, but she manages to avoid despair even when things look terrible. Why is this?
  3. Even at the end of the novel, when Elizabeth-Jane marries Farfrae and things are looking peachy for her, the narrator describes her as feeling "nervous pleasure" rather than "gaiety" (44.14). Why is this? Is she incapable of feeling really cheerful? Explain your answer.
  4. Farfrae is almost always cheerful. Why is this? Is he immune to dissatisfaction?

Chew on This

In the world of The Mayor of Casterbridge, it's impossible to live down the mistakes made in one's youth. Any attempt to escape past errors leads to broken dreams and dissatisfaction with life.

Henchard and Lucetta both have unrealistic dreams and ambitions and very little control over their passions. It is not surprising, then, that they are the two characters most susceptible to bitter disappointment.

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