Rustic Characters in Thomas Hardy's Novel

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      His concern with lower middle class society. The characters more near to Hardy's heart were those of country-folk whom he loved and understood better. He does not depict them individually but depicts them collectively. The individual characteristics of these country-men are of little importance to us and we cannot know them fully until we know their manners and the society in which they live and move. These country-folk include the farmers, furze cutters, labourers, servants, cottagers and others; and their works and views are an asset in our comprehension of the Wessex life, for they are integrated with the scene.

      Vividly portrayed externally. The foolish and seemingly useless talk of the country-talk is often pregnant with practical wisdom. Further, these characters are drawn externally. They are not a study from within and can be clearly distinguished from the major and important characters who have been depicted spiritually and psychologically. But Hardy has tried to depict their views and opinions in totality so as to exhibit to us their native culture and upbringing. Scientifically but also imaginatively drawn. These characters not being depicted individually but only in groups, have a family likeness. They in their dress and the colour of their bodies, in their habits. And manners and in their quaint and dialectical speech, are truly rustic; but while sketching them the author has lent special charm to them. He has made them more attractive than what they may be in actuality. Sometimes, he invests the grotesqueries of the people with a peculiar literary flavour by which they do not seem essentially rustic, as for example the comment of Poorgrass in this passage.

“A multiplying eye is a.veiy bad thing” says Mark Clarke.
“It always comes on when I have been in a public house a little”, replied Poorgrass meekly.

      Their philosophical remarks. It is because of this literary and poetic flavour that these characters are saved from falling into vulgarity and obscenity. We laugh at the remarks and activities of these people not because our sense of humour is vulgar, but rather because of the philosophic heights they arrogate to themselves. In their acts they are not only childish but are also childlike; and sometimes in their foolish wisdom they drop fine phrases and sagacious utterances. The logical arguments of great philosophers seem juvenile in comparison with the utterances of some of Hardy's rustic characters: “It is none too easy a matter, is life, take it gently or take it rough”. Here Hardy powerfully reminds us of one of those methods which George Eliot had already used with success in her earlier novels as in The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, but with some difference; the character of George Eliot are intellectualised with the various theories of their author while the characters of Hardy are truer to their soil and are less, or rather not at all, intellectualised. They are there merely to comment, not to theorise.

      A set of happy-go-lucky fellows. These characters, when they grow philosophic, are to be seen in their true colours and become the source of our laughter. The truths they propound are such as are commonplace and it is the assumption of a peculiar philosophic pose that they assume while propounding these ordinary truths that invariably excites our laughter. But this humour given at the cost of these rustic characters has no tinge of the sombreness which characterizes Hardy's humour in general. It is fundamentally jovial and genial without the touch of sarcasm. The humorous role assigned to these characters has one important purpose in the construction of Hardy's tragedies. It serves as a sort of ‘tragic relief. His rustic characters prepare a sort of humorous background to the serious and sombre and drama of humanity. They may be compared with the gravediggers of Hamlet. Most of their fun, as also of the gravediggers, is derived from their humorous comment upon coffins and funerals.

      They serve as a chorus to Hardy’s tragedies. One of the important functions of these rustic characters is to comment upon the action of the story and the characters of the important figures. Their function is much the same as that of the Chorus in the Greek dramas. Like the Greek Chorus, they are indicative of the unceasing movement of life, which goes on for ever. The rustics show how life can be smooth and happy if lived on a certain level, without entering into conflict with Nature. The actual life of the world consists not merely of Tesses and Boldwoods and Henchards and Sue but also of those thousands of people who fill up the gap between the arrival of a Tess and a Jude in this world. The important and major characters come and go away after playing their part on this earth but these lower characters of Hardy are the true representatives of the earth and the earthly life which does not stop even for a moment.

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