Return of the Native

Return of the Native The Return of the Native – Clym Yeobright’s Mistake

Below follows an extensive and academically popular character analysis of Clym Yeobright.

The Return of the Native is permeated by tragedy and loss. Even those characters who eventually find happiness towards the end of the novel - Thomasin, Diggory and to some extent, Clym - each had to overcome a trial of conscience that began with Clym's return to Egdon Heath. The return of the native – Clym Yeobright - is the catalyst for the dramatic events which disrupt the natural order of the heath, and the lives of those who live upon it.

Clym is a “product” of the heath, and was undoubtedly admired and respected for his intellect and potential. However, as both his wife and his mother believe, Clym’s potential lies beyond the heath which made him. Clym became a diamond merchant in Paris after being apprenticed following his father’s death. In the early drafts of the text, Clym’s travels were not so far flung, and seemed more credible. The change Hardy made only emphasizes how strongly he is distinct from his peers on the heath. Because of this exotic past, the heath dwellers welcome him as a curiosity and a wonder - not as one of their own. Captain Vye is critical of Clym’s chosen diversion from family tradition, and of the effects of education: "Ah, there’s too much of that sending to school in these days! It only does harm" (85).

Eustacia, on the other hand, is drawn towards this exotic quality. She is flattered to hear the laborers discuss how she and Clym would be well suited. What she does not perceive from these comments is that she and Clym have been connected as outsiders. The locals relate them together not because they are similar, but because they are both perceived as different from everyone else. Eustacia is considered haughty at best, and a witch by some. She does not mix with the locals, and is therefore distanced from them. Likewise, Clym is “of the future” – a man with intelligence and experiences beyond their perception. It is this difference which draws people to Clym. Eustacia in particular is attracted to him because he is deemed “exceptional”. She loves him because he does not belong.

Clym can be well understood through an allusion Hardy makes in the first chapter of Book 3, titled "My mind to Me a Kingdom Is." The chapter title comes from a poem by Sir Edward Dyer, which details the contentment of calm contemplation. The sixth stanza of Dyer’s poem exemplifies Clym Yeobright’s outlook:

Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,

Their wisdom by their rage of will;

Their treasure is their only trust,

A cloaked craft their store of skill;

But all the pleasure that I find

Is to maintain a quiet mind

Clym's "quiet mind" and contentement with life is at odds with Eustacia's lust and willfulness. Clym has rejected the the civilization and culture that Eustacia longs to know. Ironically, his learning makes him the only one who understands why he would reject such an exotic life. This irony is too difficult, however. As Hardy, says, "A man should be only partially before his time" (136).

And yet, for such an educated and worldly figure, Clym remains socially naïve. He cannot realize how fully he isolates himself, even from those he loves. He does not realize that Eustacia asks him to speak of Paris because she wants to go there. Because of this self-absorption, Clym is no closer to the people of Egdon than he was to the people of Paris. He loses first his mother, then his wife, both through his inability to understand them and their desires. Mrs. Yeobright believes he has forsaken her for Eustacia, and dies “a broken hearted woman cast off by her son.” Eustacia believes he has forsaken her future for his present.

Clym’s visual impairment, then, is as much a metaphor for his social ineptitude as it is a physical handicap. Even after Eustacia's death, he remains blind to people's emotions - he thinks Thomasin is trying to entice him when she has in fact simply moved on from her grief. He might be able to fine peace with his physical environment, but he is unable to engage with and understand the motivations of other people.

Though he presumably spends the rest of his life in Egdon, Clym remains an outsider. He turns finally not to teaching, but to preaching. There is a significant difference. In teaching, Clym would have been engaging minds to follow his example, and to appreciate life in the way he does. Preaching, however, involves delivering the instruction of a higher being, one who is not of the heath. Clym chooses to preach the doctrine that the Egdon folk recognize, rather than impart his own educational principles. He has perhaps realised that he does not intuitively understand his neighbors, or at least realized that they only share a sense of their smallness in the face of a larger universe.