Thomas Hardy's first chapter of The Return of the Native is devoted to a lengthy description of Egdon Heath suggesting that it is both a natural and an intrinsic force in the lives of the characters of Return of the Native. In fact, it seems to play the role of Fate as in the ancient Greek plays; for, it is "unmoved" in its "ancient permanence." With mythological overtones, Hardy writes that its lover is the "storm...and the wind its friend." The weather on the heath reflects the inner dramas of the characters; it is a place in accord with man's nature.
The time seems near,if it has not actually arrived, when the chastened sublimity of a moor, a sea, or a mountain will be all
of nature that is absolutely in keeping with the moods of the more thinking among mankind....
"Haggard Egdon" is not beautiful, nor charming and fair, but it appeals, Hardy writes, instead to a "subtler and scarcer instinct." Further, it is described as having "a lonely face, suggesting tragic possibilities."
Of a nature agreeable to this heath is the character of Thomasin. For instance, in Book II, Chapter 2, she talks with her aunt about her situation of not having married Wildeve. Before she responds, she peers into a tree or a bush, then she speaks in answer to her aunt's inquiry if she would agree to marry Wildeve if the confusion over the license had not occurred to "entangle" her to him:
Thomasin looked into the tree and appeared much disturbed. "Aunt," she said presently, "I have, I think, a right to refuse to answer that question.
Further, she again speaks from within the tree:
Thomasin turned and regarded her aunt from the tree. "Now hearken to me." she said, her delicate voice expanding into firmness by a force which was other than physical.....
Thomasin came out of the tree, shook from her hair and dress the loose berries which had fallen thereon...
Much later in the narrative, in Book V, Thomasin speaks with her husband, Wildeve who detests the heath:
He [Damon] looked towards her.... "What, do you like Egdon Heath?" he said.
"I like what I was born near to; I admire its grim old face."
"Pooh,...You don't know what you like."
"I am sure I do. There's only one thing unpleasant about Egdon."
"What's that?""You never take me with you when you walk there.
Certainly, for the other characters the heath brings even death, but Thomasin, who for a time suffers like a caged bird in her shame of not having been married and hiding this from her cousin Cym, and who must endure the gossip of others, the heath offers solace and, as though Nature understands, it envelopes her with kindness rather than death as it does others.