Characterization in Thomas Hardy's Novels

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      Thomas Hardy's characters are types. His range of creation is very much conditioned by his birth and environment. Born as a villager and being the son of a stone mason, the drama he could see in his life was only that of the country-folk surrounding him-their simple loves and hates and such other passions. This accounts for the creation of very few characters in the novels of Hardy and these characters are, in turn, types rather than individuals. The difference between any two characters of Hardy's is not the temperamental difference of two entities but it is the difference that exists between two classes respectively represented by them. These characters are the symbols of all the good and the bad qualities which characterize their respective classes or races. Hence Lionel Johnson easily categorizes Hardy's characters into ten classes. First, there are bold lovers and heroes like Oak, Boldwood, Giles Winterbourne, and Angel Clare; next his young men with a certain amount of determination and hardness in their character as Clym Yeobright and others; and the rest also in the like manner. But on the whole Hardy's women are better drawn than his men, because his women have much of that variety and individuality which is conspicuous by its absence in his masculine generation.

      He does not dissect but merely points. His best characters are not subtly drawn though critics do maintain that "his greatest successes are with subtle characters." Not that lie eschews painting subtle characters for he has consciously portrayed characters like Fitzpires and Paula and Mrs. Charmond psychologically; but these psychological characters, when compared with those characters that are drawn through the description of the physical personality as Tess, Jude, Bathsheba, look decidedly inferior and insipid.

      Hardy's best characters are elemental: First of all Hardy was not such a great psychologist as Meredith or Henry James were. Besides the people he portrays (mostly rustics or unsophisticated) have no complexities in their characters. They are upright and sincere; and therefore, Hardy actualizes his characters by concentrating on their 'primeval' natures such as simple rustic country people like Dewey or Poorgrass; hard-working and sincere youths like Gabriel Oak or Giles Winterborne; love-tormented ladies like Eustacia Vye or Sue; characteristic typical villains who do not attempt concealing their villainy like Wildeve and Sergeant Troy and Alec D'Urberville. As a rule, women lead a less intellectual and more elemental and emotional life; hence Hardy is quite successful in making them real. But if they are not subtle, it does not follow that they can have a one-word definition of themselves. Being elemental, they are swayed by diverse emotions. Jude has a passion for knowledge as 'vaulting' as that of Dr. Faustus, but in the face of love and women, he entirely forgets his passion.

      Hardy sees not the mind but the heart: Much of the realism and life-likeness, that we find in the characters of Hardy comes from how the novelist describes these simple characters. They are not subtle in themselves nor are they individualized, and still, we know them the better; because the novelist is always keen to record every fluctuation of emotion they undergo. We may not know their minds but we certainly know their hearts.

      Hardy's characters mostly belong to lower middle-class society. Hardy's outlook is limited in one more respect; he cannot easily depict the upper-class society. He is primarily a writer and a devotee of the life in the country and its residents. Unlike his contemporary, Meredith, he is not concerned with the ultra-sophisticated persons who have in them the true synthesis of "blood, brain, and spirit." On the contrary, he is concerned with what Wordsworth calls "the simple, primeval emotions of human life." The result is that these humble classes of people are, in their tragic moments, more real and vital than those of Meredith's most fanciful and egotistical creatures. Hardy is hard to be questioned for his sincerity when he lays down that "the conduct of the upper class is screened by conventions and ...the character is not easily seen; if it is seen it must be portrayed subjectively; whereas in the lower walks, conduct is a direct expression of the inner life; and thus character can be directly portrayed through the act."

      Hardy discovers the grandeur of the soul. Almost all the great characters in Hardy are drawn from the ordinary and humble walks of life; the milk-maid Tess, the stone-mason Jude, the shepherd Oak, the school teacher Sue, the hay trusser Henchard. Here he strikes that democratic note which Dickens had done a little earlier. Hardy invests these humble beings with a soul and in their sufferings, these characters are as grand and as noble as are the tragic characters of Hamlet and King Lear. "They rise in their falling."

      Characters, not a master of their will: Hardy's characters follow predetermined courses of action. They begin their careers with Hardy's assumption that "since thou are born on this earth, thou must suffer." They are not the masters of their own will and are often helpless puppets in the hands of the cruel chance and destiny, but they suffer because they attempt to rise above their circumstances. The simple rustics lead a contented life. It is only a Clym Yeobright, a Eustacia Vye, a Jude Fawley, or a Sue Bridehead who are struck by tragedy - and it is because they try to live according to their will and are thwarted in the process.

      Touch of realism: In Hardy's characterization there is always a touch of realism. His method is illustrated in the description of Michael Henchard, for here we have a complete realization of the prominent traits of his personality. Sometimes he employs the method of set-description as in the case of Eustacia Vye (Return of the Native) especially in the chapters "Drink to me only with thine eyes" and "Queen of the Night." Another is the flash-light" method similar to the "one-word picture." Eustacia's eyes are "pagan"; Clym Yeobright is "god-like though perhaps over passive."

      The situation creates the character. Above all Hardy's method is primarily descriptive. He does not depict his characters through the modern mode of impressionistic art. Like Meredith, Hardy also presents his characters about circumstances. His dramatic instinct naturally leads him to fish out some grave crisis, and the character, when it comes in conflict with the situation, begins to unfold itself gradually. The circumstances in Hardy are mostly psychological and in their solution, give food to the intellect.

      He reveals the spiritual crisis: Unlike George Eliot or Meredith, Hardy is indifferent to the study of the mind; but he is keenly interested in the study of the soul. The physical charm and external personality which is so minutely and elaborately presented, are only an asset in our comprehension of the soul. The external circumstances not only affect a change in the social and financial status of the heroes and the heroines, but they also precipitate a more terrible and rude shock to their souls. To be crushed to death by grief is nothing for a 'pure woman than to be crushed into impurity': the beautiful soul of Sue Bridehead is destroyed in the same way. Here as well as in Shakespeare, the nucleus of our interest is not suffering from the body so much as the suffering of the soul, which alone makes these characters grand and noble.

      Characters rise to universality: The nobility and grandeur of the Suffering "soul" that Hardy creates make the characters go beyond being types. They transcend such classifications and become universal. The tragedy in Hardy is not merely the tragedy of Tess of Sue; nor even is it the tragedy of Clym Yeobright or of Jude Fawley. In truth, it is the tragedy of the human race striving to overcome the limitations imposed by an adverse situations, fates or circumstances.

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