The Return of the Native: Essay Q&A
1. To what extent is the institution of marriage queried in this novel?
The morality of Thomasin is put into doubt when Wildeve is supposed to have jilted her when he says there was a mix-up in the wedding licence. Because of this, she and her aunt consider it an imperative that she now marries, despite the evident misgivings, as otherwise a ‘shade’ will be cast over Thomasin. Their marriage is, then, one that is based on avoiding shame and the institution of marriage is condemned as one of necessity rather than love.
It is also critiqued when it is entered into as a romantic notion rather than as being based on mutual liking and love. When Eustacia marries Clym, for example, it is suggested from the outset that this will never be a happy union as both overlook the facts of their contrasting views on everything.
2. Consider the descriptions of nature.
The heath in the first chapter is described as vast and unchanged and it dominates the novel as the plot always entails a necessity to cross it. In this light, nature has a control over the characters.
It appeals to a subtle taste and it is of interest that the two most restless characters, Eustacia and Wildeve, hate it as much as their respective partners Clym and Eustacia love it. Nature as represented by the heath has malice in the air for Eustacia and is a gaol for Wildeve. It is beyond their control and may also be seen to symbolize the rural past rather than the modernity they crave.
Nature is drawn upon for the use of pathetic fallacy and this is most marked on the night Eustacia dies as the rain pouring down resembles the tears she sheds. Her moods are often reflected in the weather and the wilderness of the heath and yet she only wishes to escape these surroundings.
3. Analyze the contrasts that are made between the town and country.
The appeal of the town or city lies for Wildeve and Eustacia in the freedom it represents. The countryside is only a form of captivity for them and they rail against the hated backdrop that characterizes the novel. For Eustacia in particular, the town symbolizes culture and gaiety while her life in the country is one of isolation.
Clym, on the other hand, returns from Paris with the desire to remain in the area. He regards the city and his work as meaningless and even effeminate when compared to the good deeds he could do on his native soil. It is also telling that Thomasin, another native, sees no malice or danger in Egdon Heath and is able to see the beauty of the place.
4. Discuss Clym’s idealism.
In terms of the plot, this native returns and stays for idealistic reasons. His desire to set up a school and do something ‘worthwhile’ before he dies is colored initially by a form of socialism as he cares about the education of others less privileged than he. This idealism soon becomes a little diluted, though, as he then goes on to consider developing a school for the more well-off farmer’s sons and this is further curtailed when his eyesight is affected.
However, by the end of the novel he regains some element of his dream of equality when he turns to itinerant preaching. He is last seen speaking at Rainbarrow on a Sunday and is listened to by heath men and women.
5. Consider the characterization of Eustacia.
From the outset, Eustacia is depicted as an independent woman as she is described as the ‘absolute queen’ in her relationship with her grandfather. She wanders the heath at will and takes the initiative when lighting the signal for Wildeve to come to her. She is also regarded as beautiful and therefore, as is often the case in fiction, dangerous.
The neighbors say that some regard her as a witch and she is unaware of this accusation until Susan Nonsuch stabs her with a needle in church. The narrative shows Eustacia as she is, and as others see her. Whereas these others think of her as powerful and in control, dangerous even, she is characterized as frightened and full of romantic notions.
The narrative also compares her to a goddess, though, and she could be interpreted as a strong female character that will inevitably be punished as she lives in a patriarchal society. When she realizes she does not have the means to travel to Paris, and refuses to ask Wildeve for reasons of pride and morality, she drowns shortly after and her longed for freedom is withheld.