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Part Played by Chance in The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

The Meaning of Chance: 

If it is spoken in ordinary way, is the happening of events without any cause that can be seen or understood. it is an unexpected event that is decided by luck , not by skill . In Hardy's novels, it is a sinister agent of the Evolutionary Force, working against the main characters of his novels. Hardy is not a fatalist, yet most of the events, in his novels, happen by chance. It seems that human powers are helpless before the might of chance. In The Mayor of Casterbridge also all incidents happen by chance. Sometimes curses with tears.

Part Played by Chance in The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Part Played by Chance in The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy


The Existence of a Sinister Power: 

In The Mayor of Casterbridge, all the principal characters like Susan, Henchard and Farfrae feel the existence of some sinister power which may be termed as Fate or Chance. Susan deems anything possible at the hands of Time and Chance except , perhaps , fair play . After the loss in business due to unexpected turn of weather, Henchard feels that some power was working against him. When Lucetta thinks of going away from Casterbridge to settle somewhere else, Farfrae is made Mayor by chance and now they cannot leave Casterbridge. Farfrae says to Lucetta: 

“See now how it's ourselves that are ruled by the powers above us . We plan this , but we do that .”

The Vital Role of Chance and Coincidence: 

Chance and Coincidence play a vital role in the novels of Hardy. Hardy feels that an evil power rules the universe, defeating every effort of man to better his fortune or to find happiness. Hardy does not believe in a benevolent providence. Events are too plainly ironical. He believes that fate or destiny is sometimes indifferent, but most often hostile to human happiness. When human beings are not themselves responsible for the frustration of their happiness or when their own temperaments and mutual conflicts do not wreck their happiness, fate intervenes in the shape of Chance or Accident to contribute to or complete their ruin. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Henchard's own character is largely responsible for his sufferings, but on several occasions we have the feeling that fate or destiny is playing a trick on this man. 

All by Chance: 

The Role of Chance in the Fair: 

In Hardy's world everything happens by chance. Henchard with his wife Susan and daughter Elizabeth Jane visits the fair in search of employment. In the fair, they enter a tent in which furmity, a drink of boiled milk is sold. By Chance here an old woman sells unlicensed wine also. People make a sign for it and she supplies it secretly. By Chance Henchard marks it. He too makes the sign and gets wine. He takes wine in excess and his mind is filled with evil thoughts. By Chance some people are talking regarding the sale of useless horses. It comes to Henchard's mind, by chance that like useless horses, wives may also be sold. The thought provokes him and like the horse sellers he too calls for his wife's sale. Susan protests and he does not pay attention to it. His repeated offer moves people. By Chance a sailor named Newson offers five shillings for the lady. In spite of Susan's protest, Henchard accepts the money. Being a sailor, by chance, he leaves the town that night. When in the morning Henchard searches for he does not find them. 

Role of Chance in Susan's Return: 

By Chance Susan returns to Henchard after a period of eighteen years. 

By Chance Henchard is holding a public meeting when Susan and Elizabeth enter Casterbridge. So without any difficulty Susan comes to know that her husband has become a reputed citizen. 

By Chance others take wine while Henchard takes only water. 

By Chance a rustic tells Susan that Henchard is unmarried and that he does not drink wine. 

By Chance, Henchard welcomes the news of Susan's return. He meets bring her with dignity to his house.

By Chance Susan writes the secret of Elizabeth's birth in a letter addressed to Henchard with restriction to be opened after Elizabeth Jane's marriage. 

By Chance Susan dies and Henchard decides to change Elizabeth's name from Elizabeth Jane Newson to Elizabeth Jane Henchard. He searches old papers and by chance gets Susan's letter. He opens it and comes to know that his daughter had died a few months after Susan's sell. 

By Chance Newson gave the same name to his daughter. 

Role of Chance: Henchard and Farfrae in Casterbridge: 

By Chance Henchard decides to settle at Casterbridge. He works hard and By Chance becomes the wealthiest and reputed man of the town. By Chance he becomes the Mayor of Casterbridge also. By chance a merchant cheats him by making supply of rotten wheat. Henchard declares publicly that he will welcome the person who may improve the quality of flour. By Chance Farfrae is there and without any intention sends a slip to Henchard pointing out that he can do it. Henchard meets him and wishes to appoint him as his manager. Farfrae refuses the offer. By Chance Henchard's frequent requests inspire him to change his programme and he is appointed to look after Henchard's business. By Chance Farfrae succeeds in expanding Henchard's business and Henchard begins to trust him and reveals his past happenings. By Chance on the issue of a labour child, Abel they develop differences that ultimately results in Farfrae's separation. By Chance Farfrae's business flourishes while Henchard bears loss after loss. Henchard decides to purchase wheat anticipating rains and storms the next month causing rise in wheat price. By Chance the weather remains good and the wheat - price falls down because of a bumper crop. Henchard has to sell his stock at a heavy loss . He has to mortgage his property also. 

Role of Chance in Being Lucetta in Casterbridge: 

Lucetta wishes to marry Henchard. By Chance Susan returns and a great obstacle falls in the way of their union. By Chance Henchard marries Susan again in order to pay penalty of his foul deed and under the feelings of great remorse. By Chance Susan dies and Henchard becomes a widower. By Chance Lucetta's hardships go to an end due to possessing the property of her aunt after her death. By Chance she gets an honourable name of her aunt that is Lucetta Temple man. By Chance Lucetta intends to settle in Casterbridge in hope of getting married with Henchard. By Chance Elizabeth Jane and Lucetta meet for the first time in the churchyard. Lucetta engages Elizabeth Jane as a companion because her motive is to attract Henchard to her house. By Chance Farfrae pays visit to Lucetta's house in order to meet Elizabeth Jane. By Chance Elizabeth Jane is at that particular moment not in the house and Farfrae meets Lucetta just By Chance. By Chance Lucetta falls in love with Farfrae, and Farfrae also falls in love with her. By Chance Farfrae is no longer interested in Elizabeth Jane who has all long been in love with him. By Chance Farfrae marries Lucetta, not Elizabeth - Jane. By Chance Henchard who has lost Susan, Farfrae and even Elizabeth - Jane, loses Lucetta and is left alone. By Chance Henchard returns Lucetta's love letters through Jopp who reads them in public. Lucetta is defamed. By Chance letters instigate rustics to organise to skimmigton - ride. They take out a procession with the effigies of Henchard and Lucetta on a donkey's back. By Chance it causes her a deep shock and she dies. 

Role of Chance in Newson's Return: 

Newson's arrival in Casterbridge to claim his daughter Elizabeth Jane is another unforeseen and accidental occurrence. Newson is supposed to have been drowned. By Chance Newson comes to claim his daughter just when she has become indispensable to Henchard as she is all he has now got, because in every other respect he is a ruined man. He meets Henchard who misguides him by saying that Susan and Elizabeth are dead. On enquiry Newson comes to know the truth that Elizabeth is still alive. When Elizabeth comes to know that Henchard has told a lie to Newson, she begins to hate. 

Role of Chance in Appearing the Furmity Woman in Casterbridge: 

The appearance of the old furmity woman in Casterbridge is another accident. It was absolutely unforeseen that furmity woman would one day disclose the secret of Henchard's early life. And, yet, perhaps the disclosure would not have come if the furmity woman had not been produced before Henchard for trial. What a coincidence, again! The furmity - woman is prosecuted by the police for committing nuisance near a church and Henchard is one of the two Magistrates who will try her. The furmity – woman is perhaps the only living witness of the sale of Susan by Henchard. And she happens to be in Casterbridge, after having lived all these years in the village of Weydon Priors where Henchard had first seen her. This coincidence again leads to far - reaching consequences. The disclosure of Henchard's secret of his early life affects Henchard's reputation badly. On hearing this report, Lucetta becomes almost panicky. She feels that to marry a man who was so brutal as to have sold his wife would be a greater disaster. The disclosure of Henchard's sale of his wife has a deep effect on Lucetta's mind and she decides not to take risk of marrying Henchard. On that day - almost at that minute he passed the ridge of prosperity and honour, and began to descend rapidly on the other side. 

Role of Chance in Elizabeth Helplessness: 

Chance plays strangely with Elizabeth. By Chance she gets a noble guardian like Henchard who loves her beyond all measures. By Chance one day he grows indifferent to her. She loves Farfrae and Lucetta. By Chance they both deceive her and Farfrae marries Lucetta. By Chance Lucetta's dies and she again gets the opportunity of marrying Farfrae. Thus she is helpless. She cannot do anything according to her own wish. All happens By Chance

The Purpose of Introducing Chance: 

Hardy introduces the element of Chance in the Mayor of Casterbridge deliberately and with a definite purpose. The first purpose is to emphasise the importance of little things in life. The second purpose is to emphasise the sense of fate and to convey the message that there is some sinister force working unconsciously, blindly and frequently against man. The third purpose is to create terror. The fourth purpose is to convey the message that man alone is not the maker of his own fate because chance disposes what man proposes. All that Henchard and Lucetta propose is frustrated by chance and events. The last purpose is to advance the story and give it a new convincing turn. 

The Exaggerated Role of Chance and Coincidence: 

It must be admitted that Hardy exaggerates the role of chance in human life. There is no doubt that several happenings in a man's life are accidental and unforeseen. There are certainly coincidences in life which upset our calculations and hopes. But we cannot believe that a man's life is a long series of chances, and all unhappy chances at that. Accidents may be happy or sad. But Hardy believes in sad accidents only. It is difficult for us to believe that a man is consistently the victim of the sad accidents or the victim of the tragic persistence of the unforeseen. In the case of The Mayor of Casterbridge, as has been fully recognized, there is a very strong connection between Henchard's character and his fate ; and yet the element of chance and coincidence has a vital and striking role . Henchard seems to be pursued by a series of mischances. 

Thus Chance plays a vital role in the life of human beings. Sometimes it favours and sometimes ruins. But mostly it works against human happiness. All important characters except Farfrae suffer in the hands of this cruel force of chance.