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.