Chapters 1-15

1. Critics have often remarked that the wife-selling episode which begins the novel should appear completely out of place, and yet Hardy somehow manages to make it seem entirely believable. How is he able to accomplish this?

2. What do we learn in Chapter 2 about Henchard that we perhaps do not learn in Chapter 1?

3. What are the similarities and differences between the walk that Susan and Elizabeth-Jane take to the Weydon-Priors fair in Chapter 3, and the one we witness in the opening chapter?

4. What is the significance of Hardy's description of Casterbridge in Chapter 4?

5. Do you have a hard time believing in Henchard's transformation from the wife-seller at Weydon-Priors to the Mayor of Casterbridge? Why or why not?

6. What is the significance of Farfrae's singing in Chapter 8?

7. Why is Chapter 9 structured the way it is, with a flashback presented at the end?

8. Why does Hardy choose the ring, the remains of a Roman amphitheater, as the location for Henchard's meeting with Susan? What is the significance of this encounter?

9. What is Hardy saying about Fate on the one hand, and how characters determine their own fate on the other hand, specifically with respect to what we learn in Chapter 12?

10. What do we make of the encounter between Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae in Chapter 14?

Chapters 16-30

1. Make a close study of Chapter 16 and analyze how Hardy brings together the ideas of Play, Game, Sport, Chance, and Fate.

2. How does the use of letters create suspense in Chapter 18?

3. What is to be made of Lucetta's multiple names, and the suggestive names of the other characters in the novel, like Abel Whittle and Mrs. Goodenough?

4. What series of contrasts does Hardy develop in this chapter, both between Henchard and Farfrae, and between Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane?

5. Hardy seems to be playing with his readers in introducing us to Mr. Fall, the weather prophet. What are the various significances we can derive from this character's name?

6. In Chapter 1, Hardy makes Henchard's act of wife-selling believable through the particular way he colours this opening scene. How does he make the coincidence of the furmity woman's return 20 years later likewise believable?

7. Why does Hardy not only have Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane chased by the bull, but subsequently rescued by Henchard?

8. Are we given a clear sense of whether Elizabeth-Jane is more upset with Lucetta's marriage to Farfrae because of the broken promise to Henchard, or because she herself is in love with Farfrae?

Chapters 31-45

1. Discuss the role of Joshua Jopp in the novel once Henchard has been reduced to his humblest circumstances.

2. What is the significance of the parallel readings of Lucetta's letters, first by Henchard to Farfrae, and then by Jopp to the assembled company at Peter's Finger?

3. How is the fight between Henchard and Farfrae in Chapter 38 significant in what it suggests about: (i) the history of Henchard's relationship with Farfrae, and (ii) the complexity of Henchard's character.

4. Explore all of the various significances attached to the skimmity ride in Chapter 39.

5. Does Henchard's spotting of the "body" in the water (which, of course, turns out to be his effigy from the skimmity ride) remind us of a similar episode from popular film? What are all of the various implications of this scene?

6. What is the symbolic importance of the wheel of fortune in The Mayor of Casterbridge and of things that connote circularity in general (i.e. The Ring, Henchard's roughly circular walk around Casterbridge in Chapter 44, etc.)

7. What is the significance of Henchard's will that Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae find in the final chapter of the novel, and how is it connected to the other declaration Henchard makes so many years before in the wake of selling Susan and his daughter to Newson?

8. Is Henchard a tragic hero? Discuss.

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Last modified 20 September 2000