Discuss the role of Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native.
Egdon Heath is the fictional part of Wessex (also fictional) in which The Return of the Native takes place. It is a large, uninhabited expanse covered with gorse and heather and few trees. The heath, which Hardy describes as isolated and lonely, resists civilization and is the dwelling place instead of the natural and the Celtic, pagan history of England. Edgon Heath has a way of resisting outside forces and keeping its inhabitants from leaving.
Eustacia Vye is a native of the heath but yearns only to escape it. However, in the end, she cannot escape, which shows the power of the heath over people. In many ways, Eustacia is like the heath, as she is described as a kind of goddess drawing her beauty from nature. Like the heath, she is dark and isolated, as she does not connect well to the people around her. The heath functions as a kind of natural parallel of Eustacia and her inner darkness. While she detests the heath, Eustacia is very much like it.
Egdon Heath is the setting of the novel and is integral to the events in it. The book begins with a vivid description of the heath, emphasizing the flat, infertile land. Nothing can be grown there that is of worth to anyone. This heath then symbolizes the people who live at Egdon Heath. They are unable to produce anything while living there, and the only way anyone gains anything is to inherit it. To have any kind of advantage in the world, a resident of Egdon Heath must move away to find opportunities.
Egdon Heath in Thomas Hardy's novel The Return of the Native is more than just a space or a setting. It is almost an overwhelming presence, a functional character in a way.
1. It stands for fate, an almost Greek notion of deterministic universe. It is commanding, vengeful, retaliative and so on.
2. It has a temporal autonomy of its own. It prides on its antiquity and resists all the civilizing projects of Modernity.
3. It is a pagan force as opposed to the Christ-like Clym.
4. It works through the lives of its people through chance and coincidence.
5. It is full of mastery, obscurity, austerity and asceticism. It only gives happiness to its conformists and the people who try to change or modernize it (e.g. Clym) or other figures of individualist authoritarianism like Mrs. Yeobright or Eustacia fall prey to its vindictive machinations. Conformists like Thomasin find it no trouble at all on the other hand.