The Mayor of Casterbridge By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Chapter 38 - A Deadly Wrestling Match

Summary

Henchard, as maddened by Lucetta's scorn as Farfrae's humiliating shove, resolves to wrestle Donald to the death. He leaves a message for Donald to meet him in the corn storage building and immediately goes there himself. Henchard knows he is stronger than Donald, so he ties his left arm to his body, rendering it useless in combat. Donald arrives later and Henchard calls him up to the loft. Michael faces him squarely and says that Donald has snubbed him at work and disgraced him in public. Now it is time to finish the wrestling match which was begun that afternoon in front of the townspeople: "'You may be the one to cool first,' said Henchard grimly. 'Now this is the case. Here be we, in this four-square loft, to finish out that little wrestle you began this morning. There's the door, forty foot above ground. One of us two puts the other out by that door — the master stays inside. If he likes he may go down afterwards and give the alarm that the other has fallen out by accident — or he may tell the truth — that's his business. As the strongest man I've tied one arm to take no advantage of 'ee. D'ye understand? Then here's at 'ee.'"

Donald is no match against Henchard's strength, and soon he is half-out the open doorway with Henchard ready to hurl him to his death. But Henchard cannot commit the ultimate act of violence. He frees Donald and lies in a corner. The "womanliness" of his posture "sat tragically on the figure of so stern a piece of virility." Donald departs, and Henchard overhears Donald tell Whittle that he has been unexpectedly summoned to Weatherbury, thus causing him to cancel his intended plans of traveling toward Budmouth. Henchard is overcome by remorse and the desire to see Donald and seek his pardon. But Donald is out of town, and Henchard returns to his customary place on the bridge. From there he hears jumbled noises and rhythmical confusion coming from the town. So great is his consternation, he is not even curious about the unexplained noise.

Analysis

Elizabeth-Jane's fears have become a reality. Michael Henchard has attempted to kill Donald Farfrae. But he is not a murderer, and it is his affection for the younger man that prevents him from snuffing out Donald's life. His physical superiority has not amounted to a victory, but a lowering of his opinion of himself.

It should be noted that only Whittle and Henchard know of Donald's change of destination when he leaves town.

Glossary

Weltlust enjoyment or love of worldly pleasure (German).

"And here's a hand . . . thine" from Robert Burns's well-known song, "auld Lang Syne." "Fiere" means friend or companion, and "gie's" is a dialect contraction for "give us."

forward stripling upstart youngster.

to close with Henchard to engage Henchard in combat.

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After Michael sells his wife, he pledges never to drink alcohol for how long?




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