Extreme Capitalism in Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge
Keywords:Humanity, Humanism, Desire, Individual Development, Social Development, Disorder, Choice
Abstract Thomas Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) presents the author as a humanist and the protagonist, Michael Henchard, as a human being who follows his desire. My claim is that Henchard fails as a capitalist and as a father because he perceives the personal and the social aspects of individual development to be split rather than in a symbiotic relationship. He does not understand that being a husband and father implicitly and inextricably binds the private sphere with the social network. Henchard becomes an agent of disorder as a result of three key interconnected choices of actions rooted in an overpowering desire: he auctions his family, drinks, and lies. While following his desire, Henchard favors the social aspect of his development at the cost of the personal one, fractures his development, and perturbs the sanctioned Victorian order. He fails because desire, in the Lacanian schema, is of desire and is never fulfilled. First, Henchard rejects fatherhood, choosing to rise up the social ladder through acquisition of wealth and respectability. Developmentally, he is at the end of what Jacques Lacan terms the mirror stage, identifying with the figure of the capitalist, his Ideal-I, entering the symbolic order of language and desire. Lacking compassion and the sacrificial spirit of a father, he auctions his family, whom he perceives as an impediment. Later, the esteemed middle-class man with financial acumen and work ethics reconfigures his desire, taking on the paternal role, but becomes socially alienated.