illustration of Eustacia standing in the forest

The Return of the Native

by Thomas Hardy

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What are the themes of The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy?

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One of the themes of the book is the way in which the natural environment exercises such a profound effect on the people who inhabit it. The fictional setting of Egdon Heath is almost a character in its own right, as D.H. Lawrence aptly expressed it:

Egdon, whose dark soil was strong and crude and organic as the body of a beast.

The characters in Return of the Native are bound to the soil, shaped by it, and shackled to it in equal measure. Yet nature, in all its sublime majesty, remains utterly indifferent to the fate of the ever-changing cast of human characters that passes through the ages. Whether the inhabitants of Egdon Heath are thoroughly modern and liberated, such as Eustacia Vye, or more traditionally-minded like Mrs. Yeobright, they cannot truly escape the harsh, rugged landscape; it has entered into the depths of their very souls. Even Eustacia, who hates the heath, still roams it constantly; there is something about the place, something strange that keeps drawing her back.

For the inhabitants of Egdon Heath, their bond with the soil is almost a mystical one. This is a community in which superstition is rife and elements of pagan ritual are still common. Some of the locals consider Eustacia to be a witch; Susan Nonesuch even makes a kind of voodoo doll of her. People like Susan are so at one with the land that they are consumed by it, joined together with the landscape in a pantheistic union of souls. Despite her best efforts to escape, Eustacia also becomes totally absorbed by the landscape but in a tragically literal sense.

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