The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Return of the Native | Book 3, Chapters 7–8 : The Fascination | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7: The Morning and the Evening of a Day

It is June 25, exactly six months after the mummers' play celebrating Christmas and the return home to Egdon Heath of "the native," Clym Yeobright. Mrs. Yeobright has declined to attend the wedding ceremony of her son Clym and Eustacia Vye. Damon Wildeve visits, asking after the item Thomasin was to fetch that day, though he knows not what it is. Mrs. Yeobright decides not to give him the large sum of money, which she intends to be divided by Thomasin and Clym. She doubts Wildeve's honesty. Insulted, but protective as always of his pride and self-image, Wildeve sulkily withdraws.

Instead of Wildeve, Mrs. Yeobright commissions Christian Cantle to deliver the money. This decision, however, turns out to be a serious mistake. Hardy has already introduced Christian as a man of limited mental capacity and judgment. It is he, for example, who is at the center of the "no moon, no man" superstition about marriage in Book 1. He is also the narrator of Susan Nunsuch's "witchcraft" attack on Eustacia in Book 3. In an ironic situation, Mrs. Yeobright's choice of Christian as a courier founders on the meddling of the man she had rejected for the mission: Damon Wildeve.

On his way to Mistover, Christian encounters several locals who are on their way to a raffle, which is a dicing game, at the Quiet Woman. They convince Christian to join them, overcoming his fears of cost and immorality. At the raffle Christian makes a winning roll of the dice and wins a gown-piece. He is embarrassed, having no wife or sweetheart to give it to, but also mystified by the dice and having won something. He accidentally reveals to Wildeve that he is carrying money to Thomasin. Wildeve decides to accompany Christian to Mistover.

On their walk to Mistover, Wildeve stops at Rainbarrow and tempts Christian with tales of fortunes won by gamblers. They play dice on a flat stone. After Christian loses his own money, he bets with the money Mrs. Yeobright entrusted to him. He reasons that if he wins he will have the money to give Thomasin, and if he loses the money goes to its "lawful owner," her husband. After losing Thomasin's money, Christian goes on to bet with and lose Clym's money, too. Christian leaves distraught. As Wildeve prepares to go home, he sees the reddleman approaching.

Chapter 8: A New Force Disturbs the Current

Diggory Venn has been unobtrusively observing the gambling match between Damon Wildeve and Christian Cantle. He takes Christian's place next to the stone and challenges Wildeve. In a suspenseful rematch, Diggory wins all the money back from Wildeve that the latter had won from Cantle.

After the gambling, Wildeve and Diggory see the lights of carriages coming down from Mistover. Wildeve withdraws, and Diggory waits for the carriages. The first contains the newlyweds. Seeing them together, "Wildeve forgot the loss of the money at the sight of his lost love." Diggory briefly talks with the couple, who tell him Thomasin will be following. He waits, and mistakenly gives to Mrs. Wildeve the entire inheritance that was to be divided between her and Clym.

Analysis

Gambling and dice, symbolizing chance, are a potent symbol of Hardy's outlook on human life and fortunes. Much of our lives, according to Hardy, follows a pattern fundamentally outside our own control. Destiny lays down a series of irrational and incomprehensible twists and turns that are useless for us to protest or attempt to control. As Christian Cantle innocently but significantly exclaims in Chapter 7, "What curious creatures these dice be—powerful rulers of us all, and yet at my command!" A little later on, Christian speculates to Wildeve that the dice may be "the devil's playthings."

The gambling scene is one of the most suspenseful action sequences in the novel. At first Damon and Christian face off, and then Diggory Venn comes into to the picture. Hardy uses the changing lights, first from the lantern and later from glowworms, to augment the changing moods of the scene. Similarly, the interventions of wildlife including heath croppers and moths help to lend a fateful feeling to the action.

Whereas Christian Cantle is entrapped by stories of sudden, miraculous wealth, Wildeve falls victim, in turn, to the same sort of delusion when Diggory Venn enters the picture. As Hardy drily remarks, "Gambling is a species of amusement which is much more easily begun with full pockets than left off with the same." In Chapter 8 Hardy adeptly converts the "little flat stone" serving as a table surface for the gamblers into another symbol: the arena of a battlefield in the struggle of life itself. The gamblers' play becomes more and more desperate.

Eventually, when Diggory has defeated Wildeve, Hardy adds one final touch in a foreshadowing of the coming ironic situation at the end of the Book 3. Diggory Venn gives the entire sum of money to Thomasin because he is unaware that Mrs. Yeobright had intended half of it for Clym. By so doing, Diggory unintentionally sets in motion "more misfortune than treble the loss in money value could have done."

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