The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Return of the Native | Character Analysis


Eustacia Vye

The narrative primarily focuses on Eustacia Vye's relationships with Damon Wildeve (her would-be husband) and Clym Yeobright (her husband). Both men can be said to disappoint her expectations. Damon Wildeve, although possessing an attractive flair, is inconstant and indecisive. Clym Yeobright kindled passion in Eustacia largely because of his glittering career in Paris. He cruelly disappoints her hopes when he refuses to return to the continent and when he falls victim to a debilitating eye ailment. Eustacia Vye is one of Hardy's most fascinating creations. From the very beginning, she is characterized as alluring but enigmatic. Men's adoration, money, fashion, status, and power are her principal values. Despite this materialistic mindset, however, her domination of her surroundings, resembling that of a petty aristocrat, seems generally accepted in Egdon Heath. Eustacia's hopes focus on a glittering life, and the city of Paris becomes for her a symbol of what her future might, and should, be like. This is one reason for her impulsive attachment to Clym Yeobright. In an irony of situation, he has returned from Paris to Egdon Heath with the ambition of giving up a successful and prosperous career and of becoming a schoolteacher for poor and ignorant youngsters.

Clym Yeobright

Clym Yeobright, in many respects, is as enigmatic as his wife, Eustacia Vye. Hardy seems to have been determined to develop this marriage as the worst possible match, with the materialistic, ambitious Eustacia contrasting starkly with the idealistic Clym. Nevertheless, there are moments when the reader cannot refrain from admiring Clym. For example, he cheerfully accepts his eye troubles and tries to make the best of adversity. The contrast with Eustacia's self-pity is striking. Perhaps fittingly, in the final book of the novel, Clym finds his vocation, and is perhaps able to exorcize his guilt for the deaths of his mother and Eustacia, by becoming a traveling preacher. Appropriately, his failing eyesight in the novel suggests his inability to identify and consider other people's points of view. Clym's mother, the heath people, and Eustacia Vye are all opposed to his plan to give up his business career and become a schoolteacher, but he only digs in his heels further. When his eyesight makes his studies hard to continue, he further rattles local opinion by taking employment as a lowly furze-cutter. In his obliviousness of social status, he is the opposite of many characters in the novel. Yet Hardy by no means portrays Clym as heroic. He is stubborn and sometimes muddle-headed.

Damon Wildeve

Damon Wildeve marries Thomasin Yeobright, thus dashing the hopes of Diggory Venn, but he continues to harbor tender emotions for Eustacia Vye. Even as a married man, Damon Wildeve slips out of the house for meetings with Eustacia. His attempts to manipulate her are balanced by her "power" treatment of him. Late in the novel, Wildeve inherits a substantial fortune, thus making him more attractive to Eustacia. He plays a major role in her ill-fated attempt to escape from Egdon Heath, desert her husband Clym, and start a new life.

Thomasin Yeobright

Thomasin Yeobright passively follows the advice of her aunt in rejecting Diggory Venn as a suitor and marries Damon Wildeve instead, a match that does not result in happiness. Late in the novel, after Wildeve's death, she is reunited with Diggory Venn and marries him. Thomasin and Diggory Venn are the closest Hardy comes in the novel to portraying sweetness, fidelity, and good sense, so it is appropriate that they are finally united in marriage in Book 6 at the end of the novel. Before that happens, Thomasin primarily serves as a victim of deception for Damon Wildeve and as a consoler for her cousin Clym, whose woes steadily mount in the course of the story.

Mrs. Yeobright

Mrs. Yeobright's snobbery plays an important part in her persuasion of her niece Thomasin to reject the courtship of Diggory Venn. She is proud of the material success of her son Clym in business in Paris, but she is unnerved when he returns home to announce his wish to become a schoolteacher of poor heath children. She is further embarrassed when Clym, who has lost much of his eyesight, becomes a humble furze-cutter to raise income. Although Mrs. Yeobright is the victim of a cruel misunderstanding and suffers a painful and wrenching death, it is often hard for readers to sympathize with her, considering her ego, pride, and bouts of self-pity. Even her parting comment to the boy Johnny Nunsuch, who has helped her on the heath, bespeaks her prickly character: "Tell her you have seen a broken-hearted woman cast off by her son." One problem with Mrs. Yeobright is her readiness to believe the worst in people. She habitually scrutinizes people for their faults, including Thomasin, Clym, Eustacia, Wildeve, and Diggory Venn.

Diggory Venn

Diggory Venn has hoped, before the novel begins, to pay court to Thomasin Yeobright (Tamsie), the shy young cousin of Clym Yeobright. However, Thomasin's guardian and aunt, Mrs. Yeobright, regards Diggory as a social inferior and declares herself as strongly opposed to the match. Even though he has been rejected and marginalized, Diggory Venn maintains an even-tempered view of society and plies his trade without complaint. Eventually, in the novel's epilogue, he marries Thomasin.

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