Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy


Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy


Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native” is a classic novel that explores the themes of love, desire, fate, and the human connection to nature. Set in the fictional Egdon Heath, the novel delves into the lives of its complex characters and their struggles against societal expectations, their own desires, and the forces of nature. In this article, we will provide a detailed analysis of the novel, examining its plot, characters, themes, writing style, setting, historical context, and impact on literature.

Plot and Storyline

“Return of the Native” follows the story of Clym Yeobright, a native of Egdon Heath who returns to his rural home after experiencing the bustling city life. Clym’s mother, Mrs. Yeobright, hopes for her son’s success and dreams of him becoming a teacher. However, Clym has different aspirations and wishes to become a “native preacher,” advocating for the education and improvement of the heath’s inhabitants.

The novel introduces several other key characters, including Eustacia Vye, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes the object of desire for Clym and other men in the area. Damon Wildeve, an innkeeper, is in love with Eustacia but is trapped in a marriage with Thomasin Yeobright, Clym’s cousin. The intricate relationships and conflicts between these characters form the core of the plot.

As the story progresses, Eustacia and Clym marry, but their relationship becomes strained due to their differing desires and ambitions. Mrs. Yeobright disapproves of the marriage and refuses to accept Eustacia into the family, which further exacerbates the conflicts. Tragedy strikes when Mrs. Yeobright dies after an unfortunate incident, leading to guilt and bitterness among the characters.


Clym Yeobright: Clym is the novel’s protagonist, a well-educated man who aspires to improve the lives of the heath’s inhabitants. He undergoes a transformation from an idealistic dreamer to a disillusioned individual, torn between his desires and the expectations of society.

Eustacia Vye: Eustacia is a complex and alluring character who yearns for a life beyond the confines of Egdon Heath. She represents passion, desire, and the pursuit of personal happiness, but her actions often lead to tragic consequences.

Damon Wildeve: Damon is a flawed character who is torn between his love for Eustacia and his responsibilities towards his wife, Thomasin. His indecisiveness and inability to commit led to misunderstandings and heartache.

Thomasin Yeobright: Thomasin is Clym’s cousin and Wildeve’s wife. She exemplifies loyalty, innocence, and resilience in the face of adversity. Her character provides a contrast to the more passionate and impulsive characters in the novel.

Themes and Symbols:

Fate and Destiny: The novel explores the idea of fate and how it shapes the lives of the characters. Hardy promotes a deterministic worldview in which people frequently are powerless to change their circumstances or deviate from their predetermined paths.

Nature and the Heath: The heath serves as a powerful symbol throughout the novel, representing both the harsh, unforgiving aspects of nature and the characters’ connection to their environment. It reflects their moods, desires, and struggles, as well as the limitations imposed by society.

Love and Desire: Love and desire play significant roles in the lives of the characters. Hardy explores the complexities of romantic relationships, highlighting the tension between societal expectations and personal happiness.

Illusion versus Reality: The novel explores the contrast between the characters’ dreams and aspirations and the harsh realities they face. The characters often find themselves disillusioned when their expectations clash with the limitations of their circumstances.

Writing Style

Hardy’s writing style is characterized by vivid descriptions, lyrical language, and a deep understanding of human emotions. He employs various literary techniques, such as foreshadowing, symbolism, and irony, to enhance the narrative. For example, he uses the recurring motif of the reddleman, a figure associated with fate and the heath, to foreshadow significant events in the story.

Setting and Atmosphere

Egdon Heath serves as a distinctive and atmospheric setting that shapes the events and mood of the novel. Hardy vividly describes the heath’s barren landscapes, wild beauty, and sense of isolation, creating a backdrop that reflects the characters’ internal struggles and conflicts.

Historical, Social, or Political Context

“Return of the Native” was written during the Victorian era, a time marked by significant social and cultural changes. Hardy critiques the rigid class structures and societal expectations of the time, highlighting the limitations they impose on individual freedom and happiness. The novel also reflects the author’s concern for the erosion of traditional rural life and the encroachment of modernity.

Historical, Social, or Political Context

In England, “Return of the Native” came out in 1878, a time of rapid industrialization and urbanization. Hardy’s depiction of the rural community of Egdon Heath reflects his concerns about the changing landscape and the loss of traditional ways of life. The novel explores the tension between the rural and the urban, the old and the new, and the impact of these changes on individuals and communities.

Hardy also addresses social issues of the time, such as the rigid class divisions and the limited opportunities for women. The characters in the book struggle against the restrictions put on them because of societal expectations. For instance, the limited options available to women in her society stifle Eustacia’s desires for a more exciting and fulfilling life.

Impact and Reception

“Return of the Native” received mixed reviews upon its publication but has since gained recognition as one of Hardy’s most significant works. The novel’s exploration of human desires, the conflict between nature and society, and the complexities of love and relationships resonated with readers. Hardy’s realistic portrayal of characters and their struggles appealed to a wide audience.

The novel’s enduring popularity lies in its timeless themes and its ability to capture the essence of the human condition. It has influenced subsequent works of literature and has been adapted into various film and television adaptations, further solidifying its cultural significance.


How does the setting of Egdon Heath contribute to the overall atmosphere and themes of “Return of the Native”?

The setting of Egdon Heath in “Return of the Native” plays a crucial role in shaping the overall atmosphere and exploring the novel’s themes. Egdon Heath is depicted as a vast and untamed landscape, characterized by its desolate moors, wild beauty, and isolation. This setting creates a pervasive sense of melancholy, reflecting the internal struggles of the characters and the harsh realities they face.

The heath serves as a metaphorical entity, representing the characters’ entrapment and the limitations imposed upon them by societal expectations, fate, and the forces of nature. It becomes a symbol of their confinement, as they are bound to their health both physically and emotionally. The characters’ desires and aspirations often clash with the constraints of their environment, highlighting the tension between personal fulfillment and the restrictions imposed by society.

Moreover, the natural elements of the heath, such as the changing weather patterns and the cyclical nature of the landscape, mirror the characters’ emotional states and the ebb and flow of their fortunes. The ever-present heath, with its timeless quality, underscores the themes of fate, destiny, and the inescapable ties that bind the characters to their surroundings.

How does Hardy’s portrayal of love and desire in “Return of the Native” challenge societal norms and expectations?

Thomas Hardy’s portrayal of love and desire in “Return of the Native” challenges societal norms and expectations prevalent during the Victorian era. The novel presents a nuanced exploration of romantic relationships, highlighting the conflicts that arise when personal desires clash with the rigid expectations imposed by society.

One of the primary ways in which Hardy challenges societal norms is through the character of Eustacia Vye. Eustacia defies traditional gender roles and societal expectations placed upon women. She refuses to conform to the limited roles prescribed to her and instead seeks personal happiness, independence, and a life beyond the confines of health. Eustacia’s desires for adventure, excitement, and a passionate love affair challenge the traditional ideals of domesticity and submission often associated with women of that time. Hardy’s portrayal of Eustacia as an assertive, complex, and independent woman challenges the prevailing notions of femininity and pushes the boundaries of societal expectations.

Furthermore, the novel explores the complexities of love and the conflicts that arise when individual desires clash with societal norms. Characters like Eustacia and Damon Wildeve find themselves torn between their passionate desires and their obligations to others. This tension underscores the limitations imposed by societal expectations, which often lead to unfulfilled desires, misunderstandings, and tragic consequences.

Hardy’s portrayal of love and desire encourages readers to question societal norms and consider the true nature of happiness and fulfillment. By challenging traditional conventions, he offers a critique of the restrictive nature of Victorian society and invites readers to reflect on the role of personal agency and individual desires in shaping one’s own destiny.


Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native” is a captivating novel that delves into the complexities of human desires, the influence of fate, and the connection between individuals and their environment. Through its richly drawn characters, evocative setting, and exploration of timeless themes, the novel continues to resonate with readers and contribute to the literary canon. With its lasting impact and enduring relevance, “Return of the Native” remains a classic work of literature that invites readers to contemplate the struggles and aspirations of the human spirit.


The Return of the Native – Wikipedia

The Return of the Native: Full Book Summary | SparkNotes

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy Plot Summary | LitCharts