The Return of the Native as A Tragedy

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      Hardy's attitude towards life in The Return of the Native is pessimistic. Hardy believes that man is born to suffer. He is of the opinion that destiny governs human life and it is hostile to man. Destiny often inflicts human beings with very little free will and inflicts undeserved sufferings upon them. There are villains in his novels but he believes on the whole that there is more goodness and nobleness in human nature than evil, and that man is capable of heroic endurance of misfortune. The logic of cause and effect is much at work as an arbitrary supernatural power is recurrent in the novels of Thomas Hardy. The same is evinced in The Return of the Native through the tragedy of protagonists Eustacia, Wiledeve and Mrs. Yeobright.

      Hardy's view of tragedy is revealed through The Return of the Native and it is quite typical of his views on tragedy. The background in almost all the novels of Hardy is the countryside. Hardy here selects Egdon Heath and all the principal characters belong to this countryside which Hardy called Wessex. Hardy's tragic heroes are different from conventional tragic heroes of exalted rank. Hardy's tragic heroes are ordinary people. The Return of the Native is essentially a village tragedy which brings us into contact with ordinary people though the principal characters belong to a social class one degree above the peasantry.

Hardy's Conception of Life

      Hardy's conception of life is essentially tragic. For Hardy "Happiness is an occasional episode in a general drama of pain." Almost all the characters of his novels go through a phase of disappointments, misfortunes and sufferings except the thick-skinned rustics who do not have any ambitions and high dreams like the cultivated people. In his novels, the conflict is one in which there is the remotest chance to escape. Man suffers from a lack of foresight and from an inability to subdue his own insubordinate nature. Therefore, he must be unhappy; and the situation is aggravated by the operation of a mysterious, spiteful power which manifests itself through accidents and coincidence which further contribute to man's unhappiness. Nature is not always friendly to man. In the novel, The Return of the Native the tragedy is mainly due to the actions of the characters themselves, but there are some workings of the Fate through hostile accidents and coincidence, and through the, forces of Nature embodied in Egdon Heath. Nature is sometimes callous and cruel to the human beings.

Faults of Characters

      To a large extent, the weaknesses of the characters themselves are responsible for the tragedy. By nature Clym is noble. He is fed up with the materialistic city life in Paris. So he returns to Egdon Heath to start a school. He marries Eustacia even after his mother strongly opposes the marriage. He fails to unveil the real nature of Eustacia. He is unable to strike a balance between his mother and his wife, at first inclining wholly towards his wife and later very largely towards his mother.

      In the case of Eustacia too, her character is largely responsible for the tragedy. Unlike Clym, she wants to live in Paris and hates the life in Egdon Heath. She has a passionate nature which does not find the satisfaction it craves. She cannot accept the simple nature of Clym and his occupation as a furze-cutter. Though a practical-minded and shrewd woman Mrs. Yeobright has some faults. She is unable to understand the workings of the mind of Clym. She is unsympathetic to his humanitarian projects. Her opposition towards Eustacia creates a wall between the mother-son relationship. Wildeve's actions create most of the trouble to other characters. He fluctuates between one woman and another, marries one of them but keeps running after the other, bringing uncertainty and unhappiness into the lives of both.

The Role of Destiny

      Destiny shows its power in a more glaring form, namely in the form of accidents and coincidence. For instance, Mrs. Yeobright dies because of coincidence. She arrives at Clym's house and knocks at the door. At the same time Wildeve is present there and Eustacia makes some delay in opening the door. She turns and on her way back is bitten by an adder which ultimately results in her death. In the final stage of the story, he writes a letter to Eustacia, pleading her to come back. The letter has been delayed for sometime. Clym, waiting for the arrival of Eustacia is informed by Thomasin that Eustacia and Wildeve are planning to run away from the Heath. These accidents, supplemented by a number of others make us feel that the culprits are the major characters themselves. Whatever the cause, at the very moment the well-intentioned step is taken, events take such a course that the consequences prove disastrous, and the grand satire lies in this fact.

Role of Nature

      In the novels of Hardy, Nature is mostly personified. Nature plays a major role in The Return of the Native. The Heath is the dark immemorial environment whose influence controls obscurely the lives and destinies of those who dwell contentedly amid its wilderness and also those who feel themselves cruelly out of their element here. The Heath proves to be an enemy to Mrs. Yeobright. Eustacia regards the Heath as her enemy. Egdon Heath proves to be inimical. It brings about her death as on the day of her escape it is swept by rain and storm. Her words: "It is my cross, my shame, and will be my death" become prophetical. Egdon Heath symbolizes the whole cosmic order, in which man is but an insignificant particle.

Grand Figures

      The hero and heroine are different from other characters so as to make a different impression. Hardy spends a lot of words to describe the heroine probably. Eustacia who is the most powerfully drawn woman in the portrait gallery of Hardy. Her beauty, charm and splendor provide a "celestial imperiousness" to her even though she is selfish, has no control over her passions, and her aspirations are low-pitched. Clym's character to some extent can be revealed through these lines. "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. In striving at high thinking, he still cleaved to plain living..." Hardy has delineated one of the nicest characters in Clym. His love for knowledge and learning, his distaste for materialistic pursuits of life, his idealistic aims to educate the village community, his deep sense of duty towards his mother and wife and his unselfishness, all make a good impression on the readers. However, his stubbornness and his rigidity in his attitudes towards both his mother and wife shows his weak aspects.

The Role of Fate

      Fate or Destiny plays a major role in the novels of Hardy. The characters too attribute to their misfortunes. Clym is good at heart but he is not practical He does not hear his mother's advice to stay back in Paris and not to marry Eustacia. Mrs. Yeobright rightly calls her as "an idle, voluptuous woman." Mrs. Yeobright on the other hand fails to understand his son's noble plans. Eustacia is in a dreamland. She is too romantic and blind towards the subtle beauties which the Heath provides. Destiny comes into the characters's life in the form of accidents and coincidence. A series of ironic accidents and coincidence brings the death of Mrs. Yeobright. She came to Clym's house for a reconciliation. Fate works as Eustacia fails to open the door because of the presence of Wildeve. On her way back she is bitten by an adder which results in her death. This is followed by a bitter quarrel between Clym and Eustacia and Eustacia goes to her uncle's house. Subsequently, she plans to run away from Egdon and this proves fatal to her life as she gets drowned.

      Destiny approaches the characters also through Nature. Here nature is represented as Egdon Heath. For Eustacia it is her "cross and "shame" She is drowned in a stormy and rainy night. Mrs. Yeobright has been bitten by an adder which shows Nature's hostility towards her. The importance of Egdon Heath in this novel has universally been recognized, although some critics feel that the role of the Heath was unduly exaggerated by Hardy. Hardy's description of the scenes which are tragic is deeply moving. The deaths of Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia brings out the catharsis of pity and terror.

Conflicts of Characters

      Tragedy can only occur as a result of deep inner as well as outer conflicts. The outer conflicts take place mainly between Clym and Mrs. Yeobright, between Clym and Eustacia, between Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia and between Venn and Wildeve. The inner conflicts takes place mainly in Mrs. Yeobright, Clym and Eustacia. Clym experiences a conflict between his educational project and his desire to please his mother; he also experiences a conflict between the claims of his mother and the claims of his wife. "These antagonistic growths had to be kept alive: his mother's trust in him, his plan for becoming a teacher, and Eustacia's happiness". Yeobright's conflict is between her pride and her motherly desire for reconciliation. Eustacia's conflict is mainly because of her unsatisfied desires.

Comic Relief

      Hardy's rustic characters provide comic relief to the novel like Shakespeare. The humor in this novel is mainly provided by the unconscious wit of Grandfer and Christian Cantle. In the course of the narration these characters appear with amusing gossip to entertain us.

University Questions

Discuss The Return of the Native as a tragedy of character and environment.
"Character is fate". How far is this dictum applicable to The Return of the Native.
Bring out Hardy's philosophy of life as revealed In The Return of the Native.
Write an essay on Hardy's views of tragedy with reference to The Return of the Native.
Discuss with reference to The Return of the Native Hardy's conception of tragedy.

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