In “The Workbox,” Thomas Hardy tells the story of a young couple living in a small village in a rural area of the English countryside. The characters in the story include the husband who is a carpenter by trade, his wife, the recently deceased John Wayward, and the narrator. The opening lines begin with the husband presenting his wife with a gift made of his own hand, a sewing box “[t]hat [he] made of polished oak”. The wife seems genuinely pleased with his offering, smiling and saying, “’Twill last all my sewing years!”. As the story continues, the husband tells his wife about the origin of the wood that is the wood was a remnant of John Wayward’s coffin of which her workbox is made and how he was thinking, as he labored on the box, of the various ways in which timber reached its end.
The Workbox Analysis by Thomas Hardy
As the husband tells his story, he notices he notices a sudden change in his wife and she has become somewhat upset. At first, the husband thinks that his wife may have known the deceased, which she denies, noting that John Wayward must have been older than she, leaving their village before she was grown. The husband then comes to the conclusion that his wife is upset due to the fact her sewing box came from the same piece of wood John Wayward’s coffin was constructed of which again the wife denies ,but her expression and body language seem to tell something different. At this point it becomes evident the wife probably knows much more about John Wayward than she is prepared to admit to her husband.
It now becomes evident to the readers that the carpenter’s wife knows more than she was willing to discuss with her husband. Hardy leaves several hints to spark the readers’ imagination throughout the poem. In the final stanza Hardy writes,
“Yet her lips were limp and wan,
Her face still held aside,
As if, she had known not only John,
But known of what he died”.
The final stanza suggests that the wife knew John Wayward. The use of his given name only, in line thirty-nine, the description of the wife’s features, and her reaction to the news of John Wayward’s death suggest that she and Wayward were not only from the same home town, but had known one another, perhaps intimately. In the fourth stanza, Hardy is showing a possible connection between the two that carries even to the grave:
“The shingled pattern that seems to cease
Against your box’s rim
Continues right on the piece
That’s underground with him”.
Despite all the attempts of the carpenter’s wife to not express it seems very evident that she had some sort of a relation with John Wayward, which for some reason he has not shared with his husband. Maybe she did not find any need to or she just did not want to, is something still in vague but by giving her the box, the husband has unintentionally brought up a very important part of his wife’s life which she never wanted to share.
The most important element, which comes up upon analyzing the poem, is the poet’s playing with the emotions which lie between a husband and his wife. It is obviously all right to have any sort of relationship before a marriage but if that very thing somehow comes back into the life after a marriage it may turn out be disastrous. Thomas Hardy in his poem dealt with certain emotional aspects of a young couple who finds themselves suddenly with a third person in their life even though that person is deceased. Still he will forever have a place in the heart of the wife and in the mind of the husband.
No one can deny the sheer brilliance of Thomas Hardy and after coming across this poem, it can be seen the way he depicts emotions which changes from joy to agony to a sense of hidden guilt in the part of the wife. This is a poem, which is open to various interpretations, and it is up to the reader to imagine it in their own vision. However, in my view not only it stands out as a literally masterpiece but also an effective read for both the set of people, who have been in such a situation and who have not. Since I guess this is where lies the brilliance of the poet as this is a poem, which we can understand without having prior information about the author’s background as it carries a message of its own, which may vary from reader to reader.