It was, at present, a place perfectly accordant with man’s nature – neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly: neither commonplace, unmeaning, nor tame; but, like man, slighted and enduring; and withal singularly colossal and mysterious in its swarthy monotony.
Here and elsewhere, Hardy describes the heath as a living entity – a character in itself. The fashion in which he introduces the landscape serves to both comment on and affect the narrative. We see here that the heath tolerates its human residents, though it is unchanged by the trivial exercises of man. The heath remains a brooding, omniscient presence in the story, and seems to watch over the human events with a vegetable detachment. In many ways, it is a reflection of the world's tragic forces, which cause great pain to humans while having no interest in them.
"Well, and what did the last one say to ye? Nothing that can’t be got over, perhaps, after all?"
"'Get out of my sight, you slack-twisted, slim-looking maphrotight fool,' was the woman’s words to me."
"Not encouraging, I own," said Fairway.
Hardy frequently uses gentle humor to add depth to his characters and his narrative. Here, Christian Cantle mourns the fact that he will never marry due to his misfortune of having been born on a moonless night. Timothy Fairway tries to lift Christian from his depression, but the cruel rejection which Christian recounts – where the last girl he approached called him a lazy, thin, effeminate fool – illustrates that Christian's dejected nature may be well-founded. This sense of a self-fulfilling prophecy also parallels the character traits in Clym and Eustacia that facilitate their tragic ends. Finally, this passage employes a specific dialect, which compounds the humor and adds to the effect of the bathos.
To be loved to madness - that was her great desire.
This quote, the narrator's observation, exemplifies Eustacia. She is attracted by drama, passion and intense emotion, but real love does not interest her. She does not understand the devotion of Diggory Venn to Thomasin, and cannot grasp the depth of feeling Charley holds for her. Eustacia’s love life is composed of madness, in that she vacillates between her desire for Wildeve and then for the enigmatic Clym. Her desire to "be loved to madness" but to never be satisfied helps explain why she dies tragically. Eustacia wants to drive men mad with desire, and to be loved back, but she prefers the emotions to the people who feel them.
"Ah, there’s too much of that sending to school in these days! It only does harm. Every gatepost and barn’s door you come to is sure to have some bad word or other chalked upon it by the young rascals: a woman can hardly pass for shame some times. If they’d never been taught how to write they wouldn’t have been able to scribble such villainy. Their fathers couldn’t do it, and the country was all the better for it."
This is Captain Vye’s view of education. It is evident that Eustacia is educated, as is Wildeve (a former engineer) and Clym (a former diamond merchant). However, locals like the Captain fear that learning only serves to pollute the world, rather than enhance it. He fears that education is changing those who live on the heath. The philosophy, while indicative of only one character's perspective, touches on the conflict between traditional custom and modern learning that Hardy explores through the novel. He never definitively presents his opinion, but instead seems to relate to both sides of the argument.
A traditional pastime is to be distinguished from a mere revival in no more striking feature than in this, that while in the revival all is excitement and fervor, the survival is carried on with a stolidity and absence of stir which sets one wondering why a thing that is done so perfunctorily should be kept up at all. Like Balaam and other unwilling prophets, the agents seem moved by an inner compulsion to say and do their allotted parts whether they will or no. This unweeting manner of performance is the true ring by which, in this refurbishing age, a fossilized survival may be known from a spurious reproduction.
When Hardy describes the mummer play, he explores one downside of tradition. By noting that an event carried on solely for the sake of tradition will prove mechanical and uninspiring, he makes an implicit argument for liveliness and spontaneity, which necessarily requires new ideas. His use of the archaic term "unweeting," meaning unwilling, complicates the matter, since it shows his love of the traditional. This perspective is one of many contradictory ones on the subject of tradition that Hardy explores both implicitly and explicitly through the novel.
He already showed that thought is a disease of flesh, and indirectly bore evidence that ideal physical beauty is incompatible with emotional development and a full recognition of the coil of things.
In this description of Clym Yeobright, Hardy illustrates that Clym’s rugged good looks stand in opposition to his intellect and education. His determination to pursue further knowledge will only further his physical decline, evidenced by both his near-blindness and by his withdrawal from ordinary human emotions. He is so devoted to the ideas of his education that he is blind to the way his wife and others are feeling, which hastens their tragic end. Yet again, Hardy presents a complicated perspective on the conflict between nature and learning, here suggesting that they cannot peacefully co-exist.
When Thomasin was tremblingly engaged in signing her name Wildeve had flung towards Eustacia a glance that said plainly, "I have punished you now." She replied in a low tone – and he little thought how truly – "You mistake; it gives me sincerest pleasure to see her your wife to-day."
Eustacia and Wildeve both use the wedding of Wildeve and Thomasin as a cruel way to hurt each other. Only Thomasin is oblivious to the bitterness that pervades her wedding day. Despite their attempts to torture each other, Eustacia and Wildeve remain bound until death, and by death. Perhaps it is their interest in selfish, fleeting passions that requires they die together. By polluting his wedding day, Wildeve ensures that he will not live the traditional heath life, while Eustacia ensures the same by flouting tradition in giving Thomasin away, a traditionally male role.
It was bitterly plain to Eustacia that he did not care much about social failure; and the proud fair woman bowed her head and wept in sick despair at the thought of the blasting effect upon her own life of that mood and condition in him.
This is the point at which Eustacia accepts that her dreams are not compatible with Clym's simple desires. Though he was always honest about his plans, she was able to delude herself into believing he wanted to return to Paris. Her sense of the heath as a captor allowed her to believe that anyone would leave if they could break free. However, when she hears Clym singing despite his physical ailment and the common activity of furze-cutting which he undertakes, she realizes that he is too happily bound to the heath. In the quote, she mourns not for the loss of her marriage, but for the loss of her potential happiness. She is destined by her contradictions to be unhappy, and hence to die tragically.
The instincts of Merry England lingered on here with exceptional vitality, and the symbolic customs which tradition has attached to each season of the year were yet a reality on Egdon.
Hardy frequently uses the setting of Egdon Heath to illustrate the declining beliefs, lifestyles and traditions of Wessex. His novel is as much a historical commentary on the south of England in the late 1840’s as it is a story of love, betrayal and loss. Here, Hardy stresses the energy and beauty of the time, employing a wistful tone that suggests even the greatest human tragedies will be forgotten by the passage of time on the eternal heath. In particular, the "tradition" he references is that of the Maypole, which promises new life and happiness with the arrival of spring. Tellingly, Thomasin - who is glad to be tied to the heath - finds the strength to explore a new love despite the grief that had gripped her for so long after Wildeve's death. It is natural to move on.
Some believed him, and some believed not; some said that his words were commonplace, others complained of his want of theological doctrine, while others again remarked that it was well enough for a man to take to preaching who could not see to do anything else. But everywhere he was kindly received, for the story of his life had become generally known.
As the novel concludes, it is evident that Clym has continued to be known and talked about after the great tragedy. However, he is still unable to accept that certain forces are beyond his control. Where Thomasin acknowledges the natural, eternal order and moves on from her grief, Clym remains self-absorbed and unable to transcend it. Though there is courage in taking the mantle of itinerant preacher, it reveals his desire to remain separated from the world, and to not attempt rejoining it. He continues to relate moral lessons, as though those might answer some of the eternal mysteries that have caused him so much pain. He will always remain on the outside, someone to judge or guess about, but never again to know intimately.
Return of the Native Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Return of the Native is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Native Americans have always symbolized the mythic American frontier. They were either savages who fight to the death or noble savages that conform to western values. Native Americans have a built in identity, largely fictionalized by Hollywood,...
Whether or not there is poetic justice in Book Five is questionable. This book is Hardy's weakest in the entire novel. We might consider Eustacia's death a form of poetic justice, but only if she did in fact fall into the weir. Knowing she had...