Essay on Modernism vs. Traditionalism in The Mayor of Casterbridge

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An Essay on Modernism vs. Traditionalism in The Mayor of Casterbridge

During the first half of the 19th century English society was making the difficult transition from a pre-industrial Britain to ‘modern' Victorian times. In agriculture, most of the transition took place around 1846 with the repeal of the corn laws. This allowed foreign grain to be imported into England for the first time. Consequently, the entire structure and methods of agriculture in Britain were greatly altered. Much of the action in Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor of Casterbridge takes place during the years surrounding 1846. These were the years in which traditionalists took their last stand before being defeated in the name of progress. The contrasts between
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Henchard himself was mentally and physically unfit for grabbing subtleties from solid paper; he had in a modern sense received the education of Achilles, and found penmanship a tantalizing art. (p.72, The Mayor of Casterbridge)
The conflicts between modern and traditional approaches to business are demonstrated through the contrasting business ethics of Henchard and Farfrae. Henchard, being an older man, is not as skilled at penmanship or mathematics and as a result his bookkeeping skills represent an older and more traditional method of maintaining business accounts. Farfrae, being from a younger generation approaches business in a more modern way. He keeps the financial records as accurate and as up to date as possible, making sure to go through old records and correct any mistakes that Henchard had made previously. Henchard's methods of business represent skills that are no longer in continual use. Farfrae is an example of how the advance of technology causes the loss of traditional, and valuable skills.
In the same way, the conflict between traditional and modern approaches to business is demonstrated through Henchard and Farfrae's contrasting perspectives on how to manage employees. Henchard, the traditionalist, takes a stern approach when reprimanding employees, instilling respect into his employees through fear. Henchard punishes an employee for his tardiness. ‘I don't want to hear it!' roared Henchard. ‘Tomorrow the

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