Is Henchard a sympathetic character? Should we pity him at the end of the novel, or does he seem to get exactly what he deserves?
Henchard is an ambitious character, ill tempered but strong willed. He is good at making mistakes and then dies trying to mend them. Henchard is at the verge of losing the sympathy of the audience at several points in the novel for the way he treats his own people. However, that does not completely end our sympathy for him. Despite being stubborn and ill tempered, he is honest and his end does not look fair. Fate has been cruel to him and he has made wrong decisions at several stages in his life. However, to say that he has led himself to the cruel end is also wrong. He is someone who does not get all that he desires at any point and for this reason we must sympathize with him. After losing his family, he finds wealth and when he has found his family, he again loses his wealth and peace of mind. Fate takes him on a roller coaster ride. A bored and frustrated hay trusser at first, he comes to Catsrebridge where he becomes the Mayor and ends up being a lot richer.
He is rich and respected in his community. For some years, he enjoys the position he has earned but his past cannot stop chasing him. It brings Susan back to him and then a series of mistakes follow again. His end in the pit is worse than he deserves. Henchard must not have lost all that he did in the novel which means fate has been unfair to him. He was a poor hay trusser and if he lost his wit at the fair then it was caused by his drink and his poverty. He has repented all his life for his offensive behavior at the fair. However, it seems that was not enough because when he turned back to mend his worst mistake, he ended up making more . He has made his fortune through honest means and life rewards him for his string will and other critical strengths in his character. Henchard has acquired his wealth and position in the society through intelligence, honesty and by his strong will. The worst of the mistakes he has committed is to have sold his wife and his daughter away for five guineas. The memory of that fateless night keeps chasing him throughout his life. The burden of that one mistake remains on his conscience till the end. So, when he tries to bring his family back together, he once again ends up sacrificing all that has earned. At the end he is dead in a pit in the countryside. His sin was big and it does prove the value of relationships. However, it also shows that he must have handled his relations with confidence. He falls because he was afraid of falling and his insecurity becomes evident in his interactions with Donald Farfrae.
Henchard again meets Susan when his daughter has grown up. Thinking that remarrying Susan and accepting his family will end his problems was a grave mistake. However, this was just the beginning of the second act of the drama in Henchard’s life. His life is a real drama made of tragedy, pun and pain. Rather than getting over, his woes increase since his wife brings back the old set of emotions and weaknesses. Again life is not a fairy tale and Henchard has started losing himself. Even the Scotchman Farfrae upon whom he relied becomes a competitor and brings his ruin. While Henchard himself is responsible for a fair amount of his tragedy, he cannot be held responsible for all of it. Moreover, as a man he is full of emotions. Upon learning that Elizabeth Jane is the sailor’s daughter, his attitude towards her gets colder. This is someone who cannot control his emotions for life has never given him all that he wanted. Luck has also not favoured him so well. It takes him to a height and then drops him from there. The fall ends in the end of his story.