The Return of the Native: narrative style

‘The Return of the Native’

Critical Analysis of Narrative style (Form, Structure, Language and an overview of Character Function)

Overview of character function: Mrs Yeobright, Thomasin Yeobright, Diggory Venn and the rustics in general are representative of the intuitive insight, Damon Wildeve of the distracted gaze and Eustachia Vye of the idealising vision.  Although the communal perception is tentatively reasserted at the end in the marriage between Diggory and Thomasin, it might be said that the main thrust of the novel lies in the destructive conflict between the idealising vision and the intuitive insight. See pages on individual characters, in drop-down box.

Irony: The novel has ‘less of the irony of life [than ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’] and more of its serious sadness’ (New Quarterly 1879);  Clym loses both women (211); the effect of Mrs Yeobright’s strategy was ‘in a quarter quite outside her view when arranging it.’ (154); Eustacia had ‘the greatest contempt’ for ‘mummers and mumming’ (178) but becomes one even though she considered local gatherings to be ‘scarcely appertaining to her sphere’; Eustacia and Clym meet on the spot of the fire to attract Wildeve (242); The hut’s light is noticed as Wildeve takes Eustacia’s hand (366); door always open (376) but it is not; Mrs Yeobright (334) sets out to reconcile her differences with her son but she dies as a result, unreconciled; Thomasin’s child named Eustacia at the moment Clym and Eustacia’s marriage finishes (398); Clym goes to see Wildeve, who has left because of Charlie’s bonfire, leaving Clym to talk with Thomasin (410).  Irony that Little Eustacia protected at the same time that Eustacia dies.

The grotesque and disproportionate are allied with the substantial and the natural. The human merges with the setting, as does the plot, in such events as the dicing by glow-worm light.  Note the allegorical significance of the characters brings the fable into focus. Clym appears as the ‘Spirit of Egdon’, Eustacia as the ‘Witch of Egdon’, Damon Wildeve as her ‘demon lover’, and Diggory Venn as a benign and protective genie who watches over the heath’s inhabitants.  The novel emphasises first one and then another of these dual roles, developing the character and the allegory. The novel is not realistic (‘Art is a disproportioning … of realities.’ Thomas Hardy 1890).

Symbols, imagery and motifs: Bird imagery for Thomasin (271), The symbolic use of the  house at Bloomsend (381); spider on lintel door (381); dead flowers (382); Bonfires; Charlie lights bonfire V iv; Moths 330,moth burnt by the candle 335, deathshead moth (Susan dreams of a death’s head 82 and is afraid of it sucking her blood); Pebble thrown in pond; Clym’s entrance to Blooms-End is ‘at the back for the present’ (471).  Fire/passion symbolism: E’s soul is ‘flame like (119).  The moon at gipsying 322, 326 342 other places.  Use of allusions: Biblical, mythical, Evil: ‘Tis tempting the evil one’ and the snake approx 380.

Patterns and parallels.  The novel concludes with Clym on the same tumulus that Eustacia had stood on; use of minor characters.

First and third person: different responses to different narrators.  Minor characters (as intradiegetic narrators, listed under ‘Narrative’), narrate and give information: Venn narrates Thomasin’s marriage (220) but does not hear everything (223); Christian narrates the Susan Nonsuch & Eustacia events in church (235); Christian  (282); Christian tells Clym that his mother had been on her way to see him (380); Venn narrates the recent events on the heath (432); Charlie relates the wedding celebrations (471/2); Captain Vye on Wildeve’s fortune (362); Johnny Nonsuch tells Clym that his mother ‘was coming away’ (383, 386)

Authorial comment: Omniscient narrator on the nature of Eustacia (118) and also (274) on Wildeve’s ‘To be yearning for the difficult, to be weary of that offered; to care for the remote, to dislike the near; it was Wildeve’s nature always’; cynical comments that marriage cures love (256) and on ‘the mire of marriage’ (394)and, through Clym’s words, ‘the greatest blessings vouchsafed to us are not very valuable’ (316)

Dialogue, dialect and accent: ‘there are dialogues of true and quaint humour’ (Saturday Review 1879).  Examples needed.   The rustic dialogue is not always realistic e.g. Christian says the dice ‘be powerful rulers of us all’

Prophetic: ‘sons must be blind if they will’ (273); ‘he will rue it someday, and think of me’ (276); ‘it was an error which afterwards helped to cause more misfortune than treble the loss in money could have done’ (295);Eustacia: There is evil in store for me.’ (368)

Nature described: wind 104-5 in a musical metaphor.  The rare courser on the heath (141); Mrs Yeobright’s last journey (351) and when Clym sets out (355); Clym on the heath

Pathetic fallacy: Mrs Yeobright glanced round at the dark sky, at the hills, at the perishing bonfires…’ (90); the wind and Eustacia’s sigh (106).  The singing Pollard was ‘as if the night sang dirges with clenched teeth’ (137)..’How mournfully the wind blows round us now’ (139); ‘nest of vivid green…’ (264); Clym goes and the imagery is of amputation (268); The houses are stifling and the sun brands the heath – oppressive(337-8); The trees are battered as Mrs Yeobright is. (339-340); ‘The gloom of the night was funereal; all nature seemed clothed in crape.’ (419); ‘oozing lumps of fleshy fungi, which at this season lay scattered about the heath like the rotten liver and lungs of some colossal animal’ (420); ‘Never was harmony more perfect than between the chaos of her mind and the chaos of the world without’ (420); ‘The wind rasped and scraped at the corners of the house’ (424); ‘the storm … breathe into the chimney strange low utterances that seemed to be the prologue to some tragedy.’ (428)

Dramatic irony: Venn’s assumption ‘that Eustacia was somehow the cause of Wildeve’s carelessness’ (134); We know how Eustacia uses Venn to deliver the letter against his own interests and how Wildeve fails to appreciate the circumstances (211); Clym does not know his mother called (372) and bewails the fact she didn’t (375).

Dramatic impact: The sound of the serpent advanced onto the heath (188); Eustacia’s soliloquy (421); Thomasin and Captain Vye arrive at Clym’s – raising the tension (426 – 7); direct speech.

Tragedy and the Classical Unities – see section on Tragedy

Satire: ‘he produced a stone jar, which threw a warm halo over matters at once’ (97); of the sweethearts in the making of mumming costumes and other comments on the traditional character parts (179)

Social Realism of the 19c novel – a style that sought to replicate everyday life – i.e. recognisable pictures of real life.  One reviewer, at least, thought the novel was not a realistic portrayal of life: ‘We think that he has been injudicious in his invention of characters … if he aimed at making his story in any degree realistic’ (Saturday Review 1879).  Another view, expressed in New Quarterly 1879, was that ‘his pictures of life have a dramatic reality’ and his characters are ‘living creatures.’

Epistolary elements: Letters to Diggory, Eustacia, Mrs Yeobright.  Hardy wrote on this form of narration: ‘The advantages of the letter system of telling a story are that, hearing what one side has to say, you are led constantly to the imagination of what the other side must be feeling, and at last are anxious to know if the other side does really feel what you imagine.’


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