The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Return of the Native | Book 5, Chapters 5–6 : The Discovery | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 5: An Old Move Inadvertently Repeated

Once again, it is the Fifth of November, Guy Fawkes Day, exactly one year after the beginning of the story. Charley begins to build the bonfire at Captain Vye's house as had been done the two previous years. Eustacia musingly recalls her use of such a bonfire as a signal to Damon Wildeve.

Indeed, before long there is the sound of a stone splashing in a pond, indicating that once again Wildeve has come. Conversation between the two ex-lovers is uncertain and unsettled. Both seem to have lost their bearings. But Wildeve is wealthier now, thanks to his inheritance. He offers his help in whatever capacity she would take it. Eustacia says she may have him help her travel to Budmouth. He should look for a signal at 8 o'clock in the evenings to know when she is ready. From Budmouth, Eustacia can proceed onward to Paris. The two leave unresolved the issue of whether Wildeve will accompany Eustacia on her escape to Paris, the haven where she has always wished to travel.

Chapter 6: Thomasin Argues with Her Cousin, and He Writes a Letter

Separated from Eustacia, Clym has settled in at his deceased mother's house in Blooms-End. On the evening of November 5, thinking of Eustacia, he sets out to visit Thomasin. He finds her alone at home; coincidentally, Damon Wildeve is on his way to see Eustacia, having seen the bonfire innocently lit by Charley.

Clym confides to Thomasin what he has discovered regarding Mrs. Yeobright's attempted visit at the end of August—but he suppresses any mention of Wildeve's presence then. At Thomasin's urging, Clym agrees to write Eustacia a letter to forgive her and invite her back to him. Then he departs and writes the letter at home. He resolves to send it if she does not come back to him before the next evening.

When Wildeve returns home, Thomasin quizzes him on his whereabouts, somewhat to Wildeve's annoyance. Conflict rises between husband and wife, and Wildeve seems unduly defensive. The conversation ends on an indecisive note.

Analysis

Some critics have stressed Hardy's use of the classical unities of time, place, and action in The Return of the Native. Originally ascribed to the ancient Greek philosopher and literary critic Aristotle (384–22 BCE), these so-called rules applied to drama, not other literary forms. Shakespeare notably departed from them, and so did virtually every novelist in English. Hardy's original plot for The Return of the Native (comprising Books 1–5) spanned a year and a day. But this probably had more to do with replication of the Guy Fawkes bonfires than with any concern for perfection of form. Similarly, the fact that the entire story unfolds on Egdon Heath is more likely due to the heath's psychological and emotional prominence in the lives of the characters. It is unlikely that these choices show any obedience by Hardy to narrow protocols of fiction writing.

The dialogue between Eustacia and Wildeve in Chapter 5 is noteworthy for its discontinuity and digression. Eustacia's one clear goal is escape. Despite the lack of certainty, by the end of the chapter the reader is convinced that she will soon make a bid for freedom or release.

In his letter to Eustacia in Chapter 6, Clym again shows signs of self-righteousness that seem inappropriate. That is, inappropriate if his goal is to persuade Eustacia to return to him. Given Eustacia's traits of pride, self-pity, and melodramatic self-indulgence, this letter, with its emphasis on vows and mutual responsibility, is not likely to win her over. In any case, in the next chapter the letter is to be a casualty of one of Hardy's many strokes of chance and coincidence.

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