Return of the Native: TRAGEDY (Form)

The form.

Tragedy – is the exploration of individual suffering and pain: see differing views on the nature of tragedy.

The Protagonist: In the classical view of tragedy, the hero reaches the heights of success – and this is reported to be the case with Clym.   Clym, is shown to have fatal flaws:  e.g.1 He ‘loves too well’ (like Othello), and is overcome by passion.  and e.g.2 he makes an unwise decision when he agrees to marry ‘if no misfortune happens’ (267) – in a ’cooler’ moment he acknowledges that he would prefer a less hasty marriage.  Clym is too hasty and thereby the ‘card was laid’ – this symbolic description indicates the operation of fate; he also remains inert and unyielding on other occasions.  Clym’s fall is as a direct result of his flaws.  Clym maintains solitude (VI i) and begins to go through a process of self-discovery.  However, the heath has seen so many sufferings that Clym’s is, in comparison, insignificant. Note the reference to King Lear inV ii.

Tragedy is for those who eschew the traditional and seek to achieve e.g. Clym.   However, the response of Hardy’s publisher’s was to ask for another conclusion!!   As a result, Book VI, The Aftercourses, compensated serial readers for so much unrelieved tragedy.

Traditional, purist critics felt that all tragedies should also follow the style of the great Greek tragedians and observe the Three Unities in a five act structure and ‘The Return of the Native’ does in many respects:

(a) Unity of Time: the time scale of the novel is a year and a day; 5 November 1842, The bonfire (65); 23 December (176); 5 November returns (402) and Captain Vye reminds us of the plot (404); Wildeve and Thomasin due to leave in December (408); 6 November 1843.  With the Aftercourses, the unity of time is broken to a vague ‘some two years and a half’ (473);

(b) Unity of Action: the novel has a cyclic structure – it concludes with ‘a motionless figure standing on the top of the tumulus’ (473 and 62).  The action falls into a coherent whole.

(c) Unity of Place: the action takes place on or near Egdon Heath.   The Setting is a key element to the tragedy in this novel.   The heath ‘had a lonely face, suggesting tragical possibilities’ (55).  ‘Those gust which tore the trees merely waved the furze and heather in a light caress.  Egdon was made for such times as these.’ (269); the night was ‘funereal’ (419); The night was such that one would think of ‘nocturnal scenes of disaster’ … the last plague in Egypt … the agony in Gethsemane.’ (420)

Note the Oedipus theme of Clym’s symbolic blindness.  Despite this intertextual allusion, consider the view that Hardy failed to raise the alienation between mother and son to tragic proportions because he refused to give ‘the mutual recognition of mother and son, and the recognition of their misunderstanding.’ (Spectator 1879).   

Eustacia is also associated with the tragic form: she has a ‘pale tragic face’ (378) and Hardy comments ‘and so love dies with good fortune’ (316).  Despite this, do you agree with the same Spectator’s review in 1879 that ‘in her case, we never really reach the point of tragedy at all [because] tragedy is almost impossible to people who feel and act as if they were puppets of a sort of fate’?

However there can be no dispute that the novel has a prologue, an epilogue and a chorus that comments on the action – all very much in line with Greek tragedy!


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