Characterisation in The Novel The Return of The Native

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      Hardy's talent is limited in the field of characterization. They have some similarities. Most of them can be grouped into a few categories. Troy in Far from the Madding Crowd, Wildeve in the The Return of the Native, Fitzpiers in The Woodlanders and D'Urberville in Tess of the D'urberville can be grouped under the dashing fickle breaker of women's hearts. Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd, Giles Winterbome in The Wood Landers, John Loveday in The Trumpet Major and Diggory Venn in The Return of the Native can be grouped under the staunch, selfless, sympathetic hero. There are some women characters like Tess in Tess of the d'Urberuilles, Marty South in The Woodlanders, Elizabeth Jane in The Mayor of Casterbridge and Thomasin in The Return of the Native who are patient, devoted and forgiving. Another group contains the passion-tormented, romantic enchantress like Eustacia in The Return of the Native, Mrs. Charmond in The Woodlanders, Lucetta in The Mayor of Casterbridge and lady Constantine in Two on a Tower. These are the basic types of Hardy's characters. Sometimes he adds to this, a group conceived in a more intellectual vein. We may feel that the same elements drive Henchard and Clym, Jude and Mrs. Yeobright, though these elements and passions may be mixed in different proportions. In Hardy's portrayal of human characters, rustics stand alone as a separate group, though each member of the group is easily distinguishable from others.

Personal Appearance

      Hardy introduces his characters with their physical appearance vividly. For instance, Clym's face is described as well-shaped, but one on which his habit of reflection and meditation is beginning to produce visible marks. He bears evidence to the fact that ideal physical beauty and a philosophic awareness of the complexity and significance of things do not go together. Hardy's most memorable character portrayal occurs in the chapter 'Queen of Night'. Eustacia is described as "full-limbed and somewhat heavy; without ruddiness, as without pallor and soft to the touch as a cloud." She has pagan eyes, full of nocturnal mysteries. To see her hair is to fancy that a whole winter does not contain darkness enough to form its shadows. Diggory Venn is described "as young and, if not exactly handsome, approaching very near to handsome", and his eyes are "keen as that of a bird of prey, and blue as autumn mist." Wildeve's movement is singular and it is "The panoramic expression of a lady-killing career". These descriptions create unforgettable images on our minds and Hardy has the mastery to show even the smallest details.

      Eustacia Vye and Clym Yeobright stands apart from other characters created by Hardy. Hardy calls Eustacia as 'The raw material of a divinity.' she is the most powerfully drawn woman in Hardy's portrait gallery. "Her presence brings memories of such things as Bourbon roses, rubies and tropical midnights; her moods recalled lotus eaters and the March in Athalie; her motions, the ebb and flow of the sea; her voice, the viola." Hardy says that in her power, and capriciousness, she is a goddess; in her rebelliousness, a Titaness, in her solitude and mystery, a witch, and a Cleopatra in her pride, her passion and her scorn of consequences. However, Hardy's effort to describe Eustacia is self-defeating. His descriptions of Eustacia is so complicate that it is difficult to form a consistent image of her.

      Compared to Eustaica, Clym's portrayal is less complex. He is the one who 'returns'. He is weary on the materialistic and fashionable life, Paris provides. Hardy is said to have remarked that Clym is the nicest of all his heroes. "Yeobright loved his kind. He had a conviction that the want of most men was knowledge of a sort which brings wisdom rather than affluence." The author effectively conveys to us the various mental conflicts, aroused in his mind, when he is pulled in different directions by his love for his mother, his passion for his wife, and his intense desire to become a teacher. His aversion towards the life of Paris, his decision to become a school-master and educator, his deep love for his mother, his ardent passion for Eustacia, his stoical acceptance of his misfortune, all combine to make him one of the most convincing characters.

      The rest of the characters too are portrayed vividly. Mrs. Yeobright is portrayed as a shrewd and practical minded lady. An important aspect of Hardy's characterization is the contrast between characters. Thomasin is described as a simple and homely lady contended with life; in contrast with the sophisticated, ambitious and highly complex Eustacia. Again, Wildeve and Venn stand in two extremes; one, unscrupulous and inconsistent in love and the other, honest and devoted. Clym is highly philosophical and less practical when contrasted with Widleve and Venn.

Realistic Portrayal of Characters

      Hardy weaves his characters so subtly so that we may get the feeling that we have actually met the various persons whom Hardy portrays in his fiction. He makes his characters in a most vital manner. Hardy gives his thought matter to provide his characters an element of pathos. Hardy exhibits his characters with his various techniques. Mostly he gives the apt picture through the running commentary which the rustics provides on the various principal characters. Hardy often uses his own comments on characters, sometimes through their utterances and sometimes through their actions.

The Rustic Characters

      Rustics are an essential part in the novels of Hardy. "Here the rustics are Timothy Fairway, Grandfer Cantle, Christian Cantle, Susan Nunsuch and her son Johny, and the mummers. It would be wrong to regard these persons as curiosities, or as interesting literary fossils planted in the environment for the verisimilitude that they give. They not only take part in the series of festivals that provide a symbolic chronological pattern for the novel; but they also participate in the critical action itself, as agents of destiny." Although they most often appear as a grout, they have been individualized on some occasions by Hardy. Susan Nunsuch represents the superstitious beliefs of the rural folk. Grandfer Cantle and Christian Cantle are also individualized. The former is distinguished for his egoism and vanity, and the latter for his fear of ghosts, his timidity and his pathetic inferiority complex in relation to women. The realistic effect of the novel is heightened by the presence of these characters.

University Questions

Bring out the realistic quality of Hardy's characterisation with special reference to The Return of the Native.
Write an essay on the characterization in The Return of the Native.

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