The blind energies and defiant acts that bring an ambitious man to power can also destroy him. This is the theme that Thomas Hardy explores in the portrait of his greatest and most tragic hero—Michael Henchard, the driven grain merchant of Casterbridge. From his drunken sale of his wife and baby at a country fair to his subjugation of a farming village, Henchard's life is an epic attempt to bring the world to heel as he hides, even from himself, all vestiges of emotional vulnerability. "Michael Henchard dominates the novel, is the novel, to an extent unparalleled by any character in Hardy's other fiction," writes Walter Allen. "He is a figure of commanding stature . . . He seems to contain all nature within himself, as a great bull might be said to do. This almost animal impercipience separates him from Shakespeare's tragic heroes, though in one respect he has affinities with Macbeth. External nature seems to join in the fight against him, but it is nature interpreted by superstition. The superstition is made credible by its poetic quality; and the poetry enhances our apprehension of Henchard's tragic fate."
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