The Return of the Native
Thomas Hardy’s works reflect the impact of 19th century evolutionary thought and naturalistic doctrines. He saw man as an alien in an impersonal universe, at the mercy of environment, heredity, and blind chance. Most of his fiction poignantly presents tragic human situations, and thus Hardy earned a reputation for pessimism.
The theme of this novel reflects Hardy’s concept that human fate is shaped by accidents and natural forces over which there is no control. The heroine, Eustacia Vye, is a smoldering, unfulfilled girl who is motivated by a desperate desire to escape from the desolate heath region where she feels trapped. She first pins her hope for getting away on Damon Wildere, the local ladies’ man, but he throws her over to marry Thomasin Yeobright. When Clem Yeobright returns from Paris to attend his cousin Thomasin’s wedding, Eustacia becomes interested in him as a way to leave Egdon Heath, and shortly afterwards they are married over the protests of Clem’s mother.
Clem, who has become disillusioned with the civilized life of the city, decides to stay on the heath and live among the simple, virtuous peasant folk, much to Eustacia’s chagrin. Events take a tragic turn as Eustacia becomes estranged from her husband and resumes her affair with Damon Wildere. While attempting to elope in a storm, both lovers drown in a flooded weir. Their fate reinforces a dominant idea of the book, that those who do not adapt to their habitat will perish.
At every turn in the novel, chance plays a sinister role. The characters’ desires are thwarted by unforeseen events, and their dreams are incompatible with reality. In the end, the omnipresent heath remains, a stolid and somber witness to the fate of hapless mortals.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Introduction addresses the relation of Arthur Schopenhauer and Percy Bysshe Shelley to Hardy, then discusses the “transformation” of Eustacia. Contains essays Brooks calls the “best modern interpretations” written by Lawrence, Howe, Brooks, Eggenschwiler, Meisel, Gregor, Fleishman, and Johnson.
Gindin, James, ed. Thomas Hardy: “The Return of the Native.” New York: W. W. Norton, 1969. Contains the novel, twelve of Hardy’s poems and the portion of his autobiography related to the novel, five contemporary...
(The entire section is 573 words.)