illustration of Eustacia standing in the forest

The Return of the Native

by Thomas Hardy

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In The Return of the Native, how do Eustacia Vye and Thomasin Yeobright compare and contrast?

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Eustacia Vye above all is a character who is shown to not fit in with her rural setting. The novel constantly describes her as being a "goddess" or some form of mystical, other-worldly creature, which arouses jealousy and dislike amongst the locals. The narrator argues that if Eustacia had just lived somewhere else, she could have had a very different life. However, whilst there is undeniably a sense in which Eustacia is shunned for things that are beyond her own control, at the same time, Hardy indicates that she is the victim of her own problems as well. She is a determined dreamer who expresses her hatred of the heath by indulging in constant daydreams of escape and different lives that she could lead. Above all, she yearns for some kind of escape that is reminiscent of a fairy tale:

There was, however, gradually evolved from its transformation scenes a less extravagant episode, in which the heath dimly appeared behind the general brilliancy of the action. She was dancing to wondrous music, and her partner was the man in silver armour who had accompanied her through the previous fantastic changes...

Throughout the novel, in spite of her dreams of escape, the sure and certain tragic fate of Eustacia is foreshadowed, and the key vehicle that Hardy uses to foreshadow her fate is her relationship with the heath. There is a sense in which Eustacia is unable to escape the influence of the heath upon her character, and Hardy suggests that her character and Egdon Heath are blended or inextricably intertwined, indicating the role of fate and nature working against her. Let us remember that it is when Eustacia tries to flee the Heath that she dies.

Thomasin is a character that is used as a foil for Eustacia Vye. Although they share similar fates in terms of being scorned and shunned by society, at the same time, it is the way that both female characters deal with this that is so different. Thomasin shows an ability to be a pragmatist and to accept the blows that life gives her with equanimity. Although she makes a disastrous mistake with Damon, she is able to accept her mistakes and to live with the consequences. Note what she says following this disaster in her life:

"I agreed to it," Thomasin answered firmly. "I am a practical woman now. I don't believe in hearts at all."

Although she may seem slightly less colourful compared with Eustacia Vye, at the same time she represents a very different way of coping with life's problems and difficulties. Eustacia invests all of her energy in daydreaming her escape and the kind of life she could lead. Thomasin does not "dream" at all, and focuses on making the most of the kind of life she has been given to live, both with its problems and joys. It is ironic that at the end, it is Eustacia, the confirmed Romantic, whose life ends in tragedy, whereas Thomasin, who has shown herself to be a pragmatist throughout the entire novel, gains the fairy tale ending that has eluded Eustacia.

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