The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Return of the Native | Book 4, Chapters 3–4 : The Closed Door | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3: She Goes Out to Battle against Depression

It is now late August, and Eustacia has become almost apathetic. Attempting to cheer her up, Clym agrees that she may attend a village event to be held in East Egdon. Coincidentally, at the festivities she catches sight of Damon Wildeve, whom she has not seen since his wedding. He persuades her to join him in the dance, saying it would not be improper since they are "relations" (by marriage). Eustacia experiences a series of strong emotions, while Wildeve is carried away by euphoria. This sort of illicit enjoyment appeals to the man: "Obstacles were a ripening sun to his love." Walking part of the way homeward with Wildeve, the two catch sight of Diggory and Clym. Wildeve slips away before Clym can see him, but the ever-observant Diggory notes Wildeve's presence.

Diggory proceeds to take a direct path through the heath to the Quiet Woman. When he arrives, he asks the maid whether Wildeve is at home, knowing that he is not. Thomasin comes out to speak with Venn and tells him that Damon had gone out to buy a horse. The reddleman informs her that he saw her husband out walking with "a beauty, with a white face and a mane as black as night." The two talk about Wildeve's habit of going out in the evenings, and Diggory leaves before he returns. When her husband comes home, Thomasin asks where the horse is and recounts Diggory's story to him, and Wildeve replies that it must be a mistake.

Chapter 4: Rough Coercion Is Employed

Concerned about the stability of Thomasin's marriage to Wildeve, Diggory undertakes the task of surveying Eustacia's house at night to try to prevent any nocturnal trysts. On several occasions he plays small tricks on Wildeve, like booby-trapping an approach path with a reddish-colored cord. To avoid Diggory's interference, Wildeve resolves to try by day rather than night.

Meeting Mrs. Yeobright, Venn tells her of his suspicions about Mr. Wildeve and urgently exhorts her to call on Clym and reconcile with him. At the same time in Alderworth, Clym discusses the matter with Eustacia, telling her he must do something to improve relations with his mother, but Eustacia remains noncommittal.

Analysis

Eustacia's excursion to the gypsying in Chapter 3 occurs with Clym's knowledge and also with his qualified approval. At the same time, Hardy furnishes a number of danger signals to alert the reader about the incident. Chief among these signals is the comment that Eustacia's psychological state has now reached a critical level: "To Eustacia the situation seemed such a mockery of her hopes that death appeared the only door of relief if the satire of Heaven should go much further." There will be several additional examples of foreshadowing that suggest Eustacia's eventual suicide in Book 5.

Hardy's description of the village festivities may be compared with his accounts of the November 5 bonfires in Book 1 and the mummers' holiday theatricals in Book 2. The holiday charm, however, is short-lived. Chance, one of Hardy's most dependable allies, brings Wildeve on the scene once more. We already know that his affections for Eustacia have been rekindled. Now, under cover of dancing together "as relations," the two renew their fateful contact.

Their evening together, however, is complicated by the entrance of Clym and Diggory. Eustacia and Wildeve elude detection by Clym's impaired vision, but Diggory spots them clearly. This turn of events inspires a verbally ironic conclusion to Chapter 3, in which Venn exploits a series of double entendres (phrases with a double meaning), referring ambiguously both to Eustacia and to a newly acquired horse.

In Chapter 4 Diggory steps forward vigorously to undercut Wildeve's maneuvers and to encourage a reconciliation between Clym and Mrs. Yeobright. In the former effort, he is reasonably successful as he carries out increasingly annoying practical tricks. In the latter enterprise, Diggory acts as the trigger, once again, for a wrenching irony of situation. Mrs. Yeobright's journey across the heath to visit her son is to result in tragedy rather than reconciliation.

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