The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Book 2: Chapters 4-6

Summary

Taking advantage of the fact that the mummers (mimes) are practicing the traditional Christmas play in her grandfather's fuel house, Eustacia arranges to take Charley's place on the night it is to be given at Mrs. Yeobright's party. Her motive is to encounter Clym. Wearing Charley's costume, she joins the mummers that night, and they go to perform. While they are waiting for the dancing to end, she is recognized by some of the boys. She performs her part in the play, a part she has chosen so as not to reveal that she is a girl and to enable her to study the guests when her turn is over.

She is able to watch Clym at leisure, but when the mummers are asked to sit down to eat she suffers pangs of jealousy when she sees Clym talking to Thomasin. Eustacia fears he may fall in love with his cousin again but can do nothing on the present occasion because she is both dressed and treated as a boy. When she hurries outside, Clym follows her, guessing she is a woman; they talk briefly and generally. On her way home, she remembers she was to have met Wildeve that night but doesn't care that she has missed him.

Analysis

Hardy uses traditions or customs to fill in the setting, for instance, the Fifth of November bonfires earlier and at the end of the novel the maypole festivities. Here he describes the traditional Christmas mumming while at the same time using it to advance his plot. And just as earlier he quoted verses from some of the ballads Grandfer Cantle typically sings, here he quotes lines from Saint George to give the flavor of this particular "traditional pastime."

Eustacia's first look at Clym Yeobright is also the reader's first. Hardy renders just his face, which is said to be his most revealing feature, "really one of those faces which convey less the idea of so many years as its age than of so much experience as its store." Adding to this, Hardy goes on to say that "an inner strenuousness [is] preying upon an outer symmetry, and they [rate] his look as singular." That he should be this kind of man from a precocious childhood is no great surprise. It is interesting and typically human that common talk about him before he actually returns to Egdon makes him into a person the man himself in no way resembles. This first impression of Clym is of a man who finds it difficult to live with himself.

He is also not the man Eustacia has been dreaming about. Hardy's description of Clym here is brief by comparison with his description of Eustacia in chapter 7, Book First. It is different in tone and in imagery. In short, Hardy is bringing together into the most important relationship in the book a woman who is "the raw material of a divinity" and a man who is prey to "an inner strenuousness." The fact of the way they are presented in itself predicts much about what will happen to both. It is impossible in reading this static description of Clym not to think of that one earlier of Eustacia.

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