Is Henchard a tragic character? Why or why not? Does he possess a tragic flaw that leads to his downfall? If so, what is it?
Henchard is the central character in the Mayor of Casterbridge.
His life in the novel begins with a mess and ends in another.
Hardy has portrayed him as a highly ambitious and passionate man, who in a fit of passion ends up selling his own wife and daughter to a stranger.
His life in the novel starts as a hay trusser who is poor and looking for a job.
He is not emotionless and loves his wife and daughter.
Henchard gets drunk in a fermity woman’s tent.
He sells his wife and daughter away to a seller for a small sum.
The next day, he wakes up and does not find his family around.
He despises what he did last night and feels bad about his last night’s behavior.
However, since he cannot find his wife and daughter he knows they are gone forever.
His life changes later on and he becomes the Mayor of Casterbridge.
Till the end, readers have discovered that women are his biggest weakness.
Whether Susan or Lucetta, none of the two are able to bring stability and happiness in his life.
While trying to escape the shadow of his past, his attitude grows even tragic.
His life keeps bringing him back to where he started.
His first mistake is the deadliest sin of his life.
The one sin he committed in the tent of the furmity woman follows him for life.
As if a dark spell was cast upon his life, Henchard remains unable to escape the punishment.
For the rest of his life, he continues to lament his mistake and punish himself.
Most of his failure has resulted from his inability to learn from his mistakes.
He is caught in a vicious circle of successes and failures.
Trying to find a way out of his frustration and guilt, he succeeds to some extent.
The vicious circle ends in his death and by then all he earned in his life is destroyed.
His one sin against his family has taken peace and joy away from his life.
His death is equally melancholic.
Henchard’s tragedy begins at the fair.
His wife Susan is a poor match for him.
she is not as ambitious or confident.
He carries her around, like an albatross around his neck.
Susan is annoyed with his attitude.
Marrying Susan brings the same turmoil back in his life that he had somehow cast away long back at the fair.
Susan brings back the same weaknesses and emotional turmoil that leave him confused and frustrated as he was as a hay trusser. Once the confusion and turmoil have set back in, Henchard’s failure begins.
Susan again proves unlucky for him.
She has all the same weaknesses that do not match Henchard’s ambitions.
However, for Henchard to leave her is as difficult as to keep her.
He has found success by leaving Susan and when she returns, he has again embraced his bad luck.
Her return is a bad omen and Hardy seems to imply that ambitious men have to make sacrifices to win.
Henchard is not full of weaknesses only.
He has some important strengths that have helped him rise.
A smart, strong and honest leader, Henchard strives to manage his people’s trust in him.
He is not someone who has found success without toil and he values his hard earned new identity.
However, inside his heart he is loaded with guilt.
With his remarriage with Susan, the guilt becomes overwhelming.
It is because he has not learnt from his mistakes and continues to commit them more than once.
By the end, the situation has gotten messy.
Like always he keeps running from his shadow.
He is trying to escape everyone from Newson, Elizabeth Jane and Farfrae to the towns’ people.
His temper is a tragic flaw that causes his ruin. It does not let him think clearly and choose wisely.
In Farfrae, he tries to find a reliable friend but for someone who cannot trust even his shadow, it ‘s difficult to achieve things stable and permanent in life.
All of his tragedy results from his instability.
When he tries to hold his wife’s hand, he starts losing control of his life and business.
The burden on Henchard’s heart is so great that whenever he tries to get rid of it, it ends up growing double.
He commits the mistakes he is trying to avoid.
When he lies to Newson about Elizabeth Jane’s death, he knows he is trying to keep a father away from his daughter.
His conscience would not allow him to do it but his guilt pushes him to.
At last his past has overtaken him and with it, he has lost whatever hold he had on his life.
However, Thomas Hardy also showed that Henchard failed since he could not make his life simple.