The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Character Analysis Clym (Clement) Yeobright

Clym, the native who returns to his birthplace on Egdon Heath, is an instance of a precocious, highly regarded child and boy who, when a man, leaves his provincial background to make his way in the world. He then gives up worldly success for what he thinks of as a more important calling on his native ground. In short, Hardy's protagonist is a character who, though still admired locally, is bound to be misunderstood when he chooses to forgo conventional ideas of vocation and success.

It might even be said that he anticipates a kind of martyr's role. Both the heath folk and his mother are doubtful of his plan to be a "schoolmaster to the poor and ignorant"; they view it as impractical as well as less desirable than his commercial career in Paris. Eustacia can't understand why a man who has lived in Paris, the center, to her, of all that is desirable, should choose to return to Egdon. His mother further objects to his desire to marry Eustacia, whom she considers an idle young woman. In short, from the very first Clym finds opposition to his plan. But he will persist; in fact, Hardy may be indicating that he is more persistent even as he is more strongly opposed.

At the basis of Clym's desire to serve his native Egdon lies a general and idealistic view of his fellow human beings: "Yeobright loved his kind. He had a conviction that the want of most men was knowledge of a sort which brings wisdom rather than affluence. He wished to raise the class at the expense of individuals rather than individuals at the expense of the class. What was more, he was ready at once to be the first unit sacrificed." At the end of the novel, his eyesight still subnormal, his mother and his wife dead, Clym still persists in the same view of mankind, will not complain of the injustice of his lot in life. Though his original plan is considerably reduced in scope, he mounts the summit of Rainbarrow in his role of "itinerant openair preacher" with as much optimism, Hardy indicates, as he would have shown had his dream of a school actually come true.

As an individual, Clym is about as unsuited to be a husband as Eustacia is to be a wife. At one point, Eustacia describes him to Wildeve as a St. Paul and remarks that the qualities summed up in this allusion hardly make him a good companion. The phrase that describes him best is "inner strenuousness." He is as Spartan in his style of life as a Thoreau; at the least, this makes him hard to get along with, not merely for his wife, but for any other human being. It is ironical that in this aspect of his personality he is so much like his mother, who is inflexible in her attitude toward her son. Almost the only person in the novel with whom Clym is shown to be content is Humphrey, when the two of them cut furze together.

However admirable Clym's personality may be, certain sides of it are unattractive, but this is a tribute to Hardy's ability to create lifelike characters. Clym is given to self-pity, and he has in him a curious unwillingness to act. His delay in trying to establish contact with his mother after his marriage is repeated in his hesitating to ask Eustacia to come back to him. His inability to act enables Hardy to show him at the mercy of events or circumstances or chance, a demonstration of the theme of the novel. He is meant to be, in other words, a modern man: able to understand but unable to act decisively.

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