Thomas Hardy's Tragic Vision of Life in 'The Return of the Native'

Hardy has a very pessimistic philosophy of life as his characters seem to have little control over their own lives. Hardy saw external circumstances and uncontrollable internal urges as controlling human actions. In this aspect we find that the vision of life that Hardy gives in The Return of the Native is essentially tragic and in characterization Hardy is similar to the Greek tragedians.

The Return of the Native shows man as the helpless plaything of invisible powers, ruthless and indifferent. In this novel Hardy embodies the idea that man lives in an indifference of universe. Critics usually refer Hardy’s themes as expressing a fatalistic view of life, that is to say a view of life which depicts human actions as subject to the control of an impersonal force perhaps called destiny or fate which is independent of both man and man’s god.

The characters in Hardy’s novel do not have control over their lives. First of all, Hardy believes that characters are governed by fate. In The Return of the Native Hardy symbolises this ‘fate’ by his presentation of chance and co-incidence.The Return of the Native is the tragedy of Clym, Clym’s mother, Eustacia and Wildeve. Hardy as a rule emphasizes the fact that even those characters whom would call wicked are so much the creatures of circumstance that they are far more to be pitied than to be blamed.

There is nothing impractical or impossible or ignoble about Clym’s decision to start a school on Egdon Heath. But destiny must intervene to prevent him from succeeding in his purpose. He disregards his mother’s opposition to marry Eustacia Vye. He becomes semi-blind which forces him to become a humble furze-cutter. Again we find that Clym finds himself in a difficult situation for which he is no way deliberately responsible. Hardy thus describes Clym’s situation “three antagonistic growth had to be kept alive, his mother’s trust in him, his plan for becoming a teacher and Eustacia’s happiness.”

Fate or providence or circumstance has put Eustacia Vye, the tragic heroine in the wrong place. She marries Clym Yeobright as an escape rejecting her former lover, Damon Wildeve. But nothing can provide her a happy and worthy existence. Eustacia finds herself in a difficult situation. Clym's promising life has completely changed direction at the conclusion of the text so she suffers more.

Damon Wildeve, spitefully marries Clym's cousin Thomasin in revenge for Eustacia's rejections of his charms. But he is also not happy because the reminiscence of his X beloved always haunts him. Even he names his daughter name by the name of Eustacia.

Destiny shows its power in more glaring form, namely in the form of accidents and coincidences. The most crucial coincidence or accident in the novel is Mrs. Yeobright’s arrival at Clym’s house precisely at the time when Wildeve and Eustacia are engaged in an intimate conversation inside the house.

Mrs. Yeobrights death is the outcome of a series of chronic accidents and coincidences. Mrs. Yeobright's decides to send a gift of guineas. Her son, Clym, is marrying Eustacia against her wishes, and she hopes that, by offering this gift, she and her son can repair their relationship. The other half of the money is to go to her niece, Thomasin, who has recently married Damon Wildeve, Eustacia's former lover. Unfortunately, Mrs. Yeobright selects as her messenger the inept Christian Cantle, the village simpleton. This ill-considered decision has major ramifications, and ultimately deepens the rift between herself and her son instead of bridging it. Instead of hurrying to the wedding party, Christian attends a raffle with his fellow heath men and happens to win. To the simple man, this occurrence is evidence of newly discovered, infallible luck.

After Christian has sorrowfully left, Diggory Venn, a former suitor of Thomasin and Damon Wildeve's rival, reveals that he has been observing the dice game from a nearby hiding place. He has overhead the gamblers, and had watched the drama unfold. He challenges Wildeve to extend his winning streak, and the two men play. At first, "The game fluctuated, now in favour of one, now in the favour of the other, without any great advantage on either side" (Hardy 182). However, Lady Luck soon deserts Wildeve. He eventually loses all the coins to Diggory Venn. Venn is unaware that they were to be divided between Clym and Thomasin, and so presents all the guineas to Thomasin. As she did not know the amount of the gift, she does not think to question the precise number of guineas. Through this convoluted chain of events Mrs. Yeobright's hopes for reconciliation are dashed.

This situation drives mother and son apart as she believes Clym received the gift but made no gesture of thanks. Eventually, Mrs. Yeobright decides once more to attempt reconciliation with her son and his new wife, and again Hardy's philosophy of how change and chance conspire to cause human suffering comes into play. But the day Mrs. Yeobright chooses to make her journey is unseasonably warm, resulting in a difficult expedition.

Through a misunderstanding, no one answers the door when she knocks, even though she knows that Clym, Eustacia, and another man are inside. Feeling cast off by her son, Mrs. Yeobright heads back home in the sweltering heat, growing extremely exhausted and weary from the length of the walk and heat. When Clym finds his mother, she is exhausted and her weak heart is suffering, and she dies with Clym present. Her last words are that she is a, "broken-hearted woman cast-off by her son."

All these events are guided by fate. If Mrs. Yeobright were not as elderly--if Clym had not fallen into such a deep sleep-if Wildeve had not come to the house--then the tragedy could have been avoided.

It is through misunderstanding and unfortunate coincidence that events drive Eustacia to her death and Wildeve to follow her. When Clym discovers the part Eustacia played in his mother's demise, Clym has a fierce quarrel with Eustacia and Eustacia is compelled to leave him. Disillusionment, conflict with her mother-in –law, and a violent quarrel with her husband lead her to attempt a desperate flight with former lover Damon Wildeve. On her way to meet him she gets drowned. Hardy never tells us whether Eustacia’s drowning is an accident or a suicide. But suicide is the inevitable explanation, since she considers herself trapped between the intolerable alternation of staying on Edgon Heath or living with a lover who is inferior to herself. She is a victim of perverse dispensation of things. Circumstances have put her in wrong place. She cries in frenzy, “How I have tried to be a splendid woman, and how destiny has been against me! I do not deserve my lot!” Fate is her enemy and it effectively frustrates her desire to taste the joys and the life of Paris driving her ultimately to commit suicide.

On the other hand, Hardy symbolises nature as fate. A direct confrontation with Egdon causes tragedy. Eustacia, for example, has always hated Egdon and the end of the novel nature kills her. Venn pulls Eustacia's cold, lifeless body out of the water. Whether she purposely fell in or slipped, Eustacia has drowned. Because Eustacia could not accept the heath, the heath has rejected her for all eternity

Characters in Hardy such as Clym, Eustacia, Wildeve and Mrs Yeobright are trapped in a series of bitterly ironic events. They are at the mercy of their instincts and emotions. Besides this, the incongruity of the situation forms the very basis of the tragedy in his novel; the incongruity between Clym and his mother, between Eustascia and Mrs Yeobright. All these persons have their own individual natures and temperaments and the irreconcilability and incompatibility of their temperament bring their tragedy. Hardy proves a dismal view of life in which coincidence and accident conspire to produce the worst of circumstance due to the indifference of the Will.