The Return of the Native: Theme Analysis
The landscape of this novel is encapsulated in the descriptions of Egdon Heath and this sense of place is as ever central in a work by Hardy. Here, the heath symbolizes the rural past before human intervention and also adds to the sense of isolation suffered by those already isolated in human relationships, such as Eustacia and Wildeve.
This thematic concern of rural life is also referred to as a fading past when Venn’s occupation as a reddleman is described as being all but redundant with the later advent of the railway. The heath, though, is seen to be immutable and resistant to change and for some it may be regarded as an optimistic feature as it demonstrates the power of nature of humanity. The vastness of the heath also allows one to see that men and women are, by comparison, just absurdist insignificants.
The theme of failed marriage is a dominant one as each of the main characters (Wildeve, Eustacia, Thomasin and Clym) suffers from the relationship they embark upon. For Thomasin, her marriage to Wildeve occurs because of the fear of what others will say about her after Wildeve all but jilted her at the start of the novel. She marries, then, for the sake of received moral values and so as not to bring shame on her family. It is evident that marrying for such a reason is criticized as their relationship crumbles.
Conversely, Eustacia is seen to marry Clym primarily because she is in love with the idea of love in an abstract sense and because she first regards him as having a ‘golden halo’ around him. He represents her future dreams of culture and modernity, and because she is blinded by the notion of romance she fails to see the reality of marriage.
This mainly pessimistic perception of marriage is weighed against a little, however, as closure is brought about when Thomasin weds altruistic Venn.