Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge and Frank Norris’ McTeagueThomas Hardy and Frank Norris are artists, painting portraits of men filled with character, that is distraught with regression. The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy is a powerful and searching fable. Frank Norris’ McTeague is a documentation of the animalistic pursuit of empty dreams. Both authors withhold the protagonists of their dreams, in a grotesque world, which provides no sign of escape. Each emphasizes themes of greed and devolution, while carefully detailing character portraits. Both Hardy and Norris broadcast a network of symbolism to enhance the meaning of their works. Hardy and Norris’ use of complex character portraits, simplistic settings and love subplots employ correlating themes of decay and provide similar and contrasting insights into their novels.
The settings of both novels are based in small simple structured towns. Each take place during the post-Victorian era. Both authors base their novels within these small towns and avoid the introduction of a new setting. The development of a single setting story allows for both Hardy and Norris to manifest a greater complexity in the protagonist’s plight. In McTeague, “All the needed data are given at the start, and the main action-except the ending-glows out of the data; no face is withheld to allow the story to take an unexpected twist, and the facts are given mean what they purport to
mean” (Frohock 10). The Mayor of Casterbridge also follows the setting structure of a small town filled with all the necessary elements for Henchard’s undulating character progression. It is unique that both authors focus solely upon one small town, both only escaping its confides once, either in the very beginning or in the end. Both Hardy and Norris spin a complex web of symbols, characters and love subplots within their settings.
The Mayor of Casterbridge opens with a drunken Michael Henchard selling his wife and child to a sailor. The next day he rises feeling remorse for his actions, he seeks them, yet they are gone. Henchard eventually winds up in the simple town of Casterbridge. Here he seeks to create a sense of justice for the “tragic error which is the result of [his] moral weakness” (Gibson 97). Eighteen years pass and Henchard has cycled to the top of his wheel of fortune, his is a successful businessm…
…tings, love subplots and brilliant inelaborate character portraits, Hardy and Norris create ascendent themes of naturalistic literature. Hardy’s works are a balance of Darwinism and prudishness. He refused to deny his characters of the chilling realism of humanity. Norris illuminates the power that denies any man the ability to thrive, prehistoric animalism. Their twisted themes of decay flourish through symbolic impressions to provide works which set the astonishing tone for literature to ensue Victorian prudishness.
Carpenter, Richard. Thomas Hardy. C.D. Miles. 2ed edition. Boston: Twayne Publishers. 1964. 89-153.
Frohock, W. M. Frank Norris. 1st edition. St. Paul: North Central Publishing Company. 1968. 5-39.
Gibson, James. Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life. 3rd edition. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1996. 1-138.
Hardy, Thomas. The Mayor of Casterbridge. Merriam Schuster. 4th edition. San Diego: Harcourt. Brace Jovanovich Inc. 1972.
Hochman, Barbra. The Art of Frank Norris, Storyteller. 3rd edition. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. 1988. 1-77.
Norris, Frank. McTeague. Peter Brief. 3rd edition. Sand Diego: Harcourt Brace Joanovich Inc. 1977.