The Rustic Characters in The Return of The Native

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      Rustic characters are an inseparable part in the novels of Thomas Hardy. Only his last two novels, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure are exceptions. These characters provide a local color to the novel and are a part of the background. Sometimes their talk and gossip are sources of information to us about the leading characters. Moreover, their comments on their superiors give us interesting glimpses of the life and temperaments of those superiors. They also provide some humor to the otherwise somber and tragic stories. Hardy often presents these characters in a group. In The Return of the Native, this group consists of Grandfer Cantle, Fairway, Humphry, Christian Cantle, Susan Nunsuch, Olly Dowden, Sam etc. Some of these characters, however slight to the plot, occasionally play a crucial role in the story.

Their Contribution to the Plot

      The rustic characters often come into contact with the principal characters. They all go in a group to sing at his Quiet Women Inn in order to celebrate Wildeve's marriage though they are not aware of the fact that the marriage has not taken place. When Yeobright is bitten by an adder they assist Clym and it is Sam's suggestion to apply adder s fat onto the wound. Susan Nunsuch represents the superstitious beliefs of the rustic people as she makes a waxen effigy of Eustacia and burns it to destroy Eustacia. The rustic characters give a wedding present to Thomasin and Verm at an evening party after their marriage. Christian Cantle loses all the money he has been carrying for Clym and Thomasin in a gambling bout with Wildeve. However, the money is regained by Diggory Verm and he gives it to Thomasin, thereby creating a complication which leads to a bitter quarrel between Eustacia and Mrs. Yeobright and hardens the antagonism between the two women. In a later stage of the play Fairway fails to produce the letter from Clym to Eustacia which ultimately results in the deaths of Eustacia and Wildeve.

Rustics provide much of the Humour

      Hardy's novels are noted for its melancholic touch. But the rustic folks, with their innocent wits provides a lot of humor to the otherwise somber story. Mostly this humor is not aroused deliberately, but unconsciously by the rustics. Their peculiar way of putting things, their manner of expressing thoughts and the way in which they express facts are all interesting. Both the Cantles - Grandfer and Christian - are sources of rich, unconscious humor. His vanity and egoism are obvious when he speaks to his son: "Really all the soldering and smartness in the world in the father seems to count for nothing in forming the nature of the son," means that his son has not inherited his boldness of spirit. "But seventy-one, though nothing at home, is a high figure for a rover." He is proud of his stamina and says that, even if he had been stung by ten adders, he would not lose even a single day's work. "Such is my spirit when I am on my mettle. But perhaps, its natural in a man trained for war."

As Commentators

      The rustic characters appear in the novel very early on the occasion of the anniversary of Gunpowder plot, and the rustics have lighted a gunfire. There they speak out some facts relating to Clym, Wildeve, Eustacia and Thomasin. They have mixed opinions on Wildeve. Clym's return is revealed through their conversation. They are of the opinion that Clym is a clever man. Eustacia's character is strange for them. "She's a well-favored maid enough, especially when she's got one of her dandy gowns on.'' The readers know about Clym's occupation through this conversation. Humphry says that he has become "a real perusing man, with the strangest notions about things, because he went to school early, such as the school was." They say that Clym and Eustacia are good pair. "Both of one mind about niceties for certain, and learned in print, and always thinking about high doctrine-there couldn't bo a better couple."

Role as Chorus

      Hardy placed these rustic characters in the story to provide a chorus. The chorus is the symbol of the great majority of humdrum mortals, who go on living through their conventional life, whatever misfortunes may overtake the central figures in the narrative. Hardy applied chorus to persons in his novel who represent a communal point of view, or the perspective of a cultural group. The rustics get away from the sufferings and misfortunes, unlike the leading characters. They provide a standard of normality by which the reader can assess the great heights and depths to which the main characters rise and fall. In a sense,, they represent Hardy himself. The rustics are the powerful background which gives the novel a realistic effect. They have some logic in their talks as Shakespeare's peasants and not a mere background.

University Questions

Write a note on the rustic characters in The Return of the Native.
Write an essay on the role and function of the rustic characters in The Return of the Native.

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