English 181—Topics for the Essay on Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge

Due date: May 22, 2000

General Instructions: The essay should be a three-page essay on a topic related to Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. As for all essays, you should have a single, unified thesis that you prove logically and thoroughly. Your experience, impressions, and response to the work can guide your interpretation, but make sure that everything you claim is demonstrable. If you decide to use one of the suggested topics, keep in mind that you will need to narrow its focus considerably to make a strong thesis.

Suggested Topics:

  1. Although the precipitating incident of the novel—the sale of a wife and child at auction—actually happened, occurrences like it were rare. What significance does it have for the novel as a whole? What references to it appear in the novel, and what symbolic or social meaning for it does the novel reveal as it progresses?
  2. The novel’s subtitle calls it "The Life and Death of a Man of Character." What conclusions about character and identity does the novel require of its readers? Is character destiny? Can character be changed? Use incidents, descriptions, and references to character from the novel as evidence for your view.
  3. Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge follows several characters through great changes in status, position, and economic circumstances. What continuities and discontinuities do the characters demonstrate during these changes? What does this say about Hardy’s theory of human development?
  4. Hardy’s novel includes many references to history, from Roman times to recent changes in political and economic life in the town. What relationship between history and the present does the novel reveal? To what extent does history shape the lives and actions of the people of Casterbridge and the central characters of the novel?
  5. The novel contains many metaphorical versions of evolution: the slow changes and adaptations shown by the town’s residents, the gradual displacement of older agricultural practices by newer, more efficient methods, and the fierce struggle for economic survival among people and businesses. How does the novel comment on these evolutionary struggles, and to what extent can the novel be considered either an illustration or a refutation of the theory?
  6. Any topic concerning The Mayor of Casterbridge that you can discuss in three pages with a clear, arguable thesis. You may also do a comparative topic on both The Way of All Flesh and The Mayor of Casterbridge, but consult me first.