The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Return of the Native | Book 4, Chapters 1–2 : The Closed Door | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1: The Rencounter by the Pool

July is the single month of the year in which the Egdon Heath landscape is truly beautiful. Clym and Eustacia live on in their small cottage at Alderworth, with Eustacia's hopes still bound up in her dreams of Paris. Thomasin writes to her aunt to thank her for the money delivered by Diggory Venn, but Mrs. Yeobright is puzzled by Clym's silence. Half the sum, after all, was intended for him. She questions Christian Cantle, who breaks down to confess the events of the gambling match. Dismissing Christian, Mrs. Yeobright determines to question Eustacia, for she fears that the money due to Clym has been misappropriated by Wildeve. The interview with Eustacia, however, results in a bitter series of misunderstandings, with the two women hurling accusations at each other.

Chapter 2: He Is Set Upon by Adversities; but He Sings a Song

Eustacia angrily returns home, telling Clym she will never see his mother again. She entreats him once more to take her to Paris. The following day, the mystery of the missing money is resolved, with Thomasin presenting his share to Clym. Continuing in his "scholastic plan," Clym soon experiences eye problems caused by an acute inflammation severe enough to make him an invalid. Eustacia gloomily realizes that her dream of Paris is not likely to come true because of this misfortune.

Determined to reengage in useful activity, Clym asks Humphrey to teach him the trade of furze-cutting. The pay is low and the work is socially looked down on, but Clym cheerfully undertakes it, even singing to himself. Eustacia finds it degrading to see her husband cheerfully singing while doing such low-status work. The two discuss the ways in which their relationship may be cooling.

Analysis

Hardy has amply foreshadowed tension and conflict between Eustacia Vye and Mrs. Yeobright. This part of the novel will bring that conflict to a height, so it is appropriate that Chapter 1 should highlight a scalding quarrel between the two women. Mrs. Yeobright's refusal to attend Eustacia's wedding to Clym and the misunderstanding regarding the money intended for Clym and Thomasin serve as kindling for this conflagration. In Eustacia's eyes, Mrs. Yeobright is arrogant and condescending; for Mrs. Yeobright, Eustacia is scheming and manipulative. Social snobbery on Mrs. Yeobright's part also plays a role. Underlying the conflict are the built-in jealousies and resentments, prevalent in many cultures, of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.

In Chapter 2 Clym's eye disorder quickly assumes the status of a symbol. On one hand, his condition stresses his conscientious application of his energies to prepare for his new career as a schoolmaster. On the other hand, the reader cannot help but feel that Hardy's choice of physical ailment for Clym is symbolically appropriate. He is emotionally and psychologically blind to interpersonal realities such as his mother's sensitivity to social opinion and Eustacia's needs for material comfort and glamor. Reactions to Clym's ailment show an ironic situation. His patience and good humor in spite of adversity, which would usually be seen as virtuous, intensify the setback in the eyes of Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia. Singing to himself and taking up furze-cutting may help Clym to weather the storm, but they do not do much to soften the blow for his wife and his mother. Eustacia tells Clym bluntly toward the end of Chapter 2, "I fear we are cooling." It has been less than two months since they were married.

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