Critically analyse Hardy's treatment of Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native.
‘The Return of the Native’ is the book of Egdon Heath. In his other novels the scene could be transported to some other part of Wessex, but in this novel, it remains unchanged. Egdon is the scene of the story, she dominates the plot, she determines the destiny of the character. She is an antagonist of the novel and almost all major characters except the rustics are more or less victims to her wrath.
Hardy’s descriptions of Egdon reveal her mystery. In Hardy’s description Egdon is the ‘vast tract of unenclosed wild’. It has its advent on his earth before ‘astronomical hour’. Its nature its something about which ‘no body could be said to understand the hath’. It could best be felt when it clearly be seen. It had waited unmoved during so many centuries. It is haggard. Hardy observes it as haggard Egdon appeal to a subler and carcer instinct. About its friendship and love-making and its association Hardy comments, - “The storm was its friend”. It became “the home of strange phantoms and it was found to be hitherto unrecognized original of those wild regions of obscurity which are vaguely felt to be compassing us about in midnight dream of flight and disaster”. It is again singularly colossal and mysterious in its swarthy monotony. It remains with its unchanged phenomena. Civilization was its enemy. It has worn the same ‘antique brown dress’. Hardy discovers its ancient permanence for, -‘the sea changed’, ‘the fields changed’, ‘the rivers’, ‘the villages, and the people’, - yet Egdon remained.
Egdon the heath is alert of those who either try to leave her or who pass an opinion against her or who show their disgust to her. Such attitudes from the dwellers appear to nature a kind of betrayal. And she at once wages her weapon to dash the enemy to the dust or teach a severe lesson.
For, instance, Clym Yeobright evoked Egdon’s wrath by leaving away her to Paris. Clym violated nature’s code by making himself an engineer and later by taking an earnest effort of establishing a school at the heart of Egdon. So, Clym, showing sense and intellect initiated conflict with nature. And for punishing Clym, she upsets all his hopes and plans. Misfortune, followed by suffering came upon him. He has betrayed by his wife-Eustacia.
Thomasin had no quarrel with Egdon. But Egdon appeared to her, drab, lifeless, uninteresting. Egdon’s super sense could read that. And nature punished him by leading her in misfortune and troubles.
Hardy’s novel, ‘The Return of the Native’ is a novel of conflict between man and nature. Here we find a perfect representation of what Hardy thinks of nature. And Hardy reveals nature’s motive, desire, will, sense and feeling. If men were the senseless product of instinct, then there had been no conflict between man and nature.
While Rousseau and Wordsworth, only find in nature a kind another, and they never living in the heart of nature give us their wordy message, - Hardy in that case, gives us the total representation of the reality of nature. And what he records about nature,- is the out come of his experience. So, the conflict between man and nature as is represented in Hardy’s novel,- is a discovery. As in Shakespeare’s tragedies, the conflict is between good and evil, like wise, in Hardy’s novel, the conflict between man and nature, is the conflict between stagnancy and progress.
Subrata Ray .Uluberia West Bengal .India .