The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Book 3: Chapters 1-2

Summary

Clym is seen by the heath dwellers as a rather special person not only because of his unusual reputation as a boy but also because of his position in the diamond business in far-off Paris. Therefore, when he tells the group at the haircutting at Fairway's that he has come home to make himself into a schoolteacher, they do not believe him. Mrs. Yeobright does not believe him either, but in her case it is because she does not want to. The conversation between them in which he tries to explain why he is giving up his job is interrupted by Christian Cantle, who relates the tale of Eustacia's being pricked in the arm with a stocking needle by Susan Nunsuch. This is a revenge Susan planned because she is convinced that Eustacia has bewitched her children.

Later, Clym questions Sam about Eustacia, wondering if she is the young woman who was disguised as a mummer at this mother's party. Sam suggests Clym can see Eustacia by coming to join several of the men who are trying to retrieve the bucket from Captain Vye's well.

Analysis

It is appropriate that it should be Christian who reports the incident in church. He is the perfect barometer of the heath folk's superstitions. Earlier in the novel, he has been troubled by a discussion of ghosts and especially by the report of the appearance of a red ghost. He describes Susan's attack on Eustacia as if he believes witchcraft is a real concern.

Hardy makes particularly effective use of the "chorus" of villagers at the haircutting outside Fairway's house. To them Clym first reveals his plan for remaining on Egdon Heath to become "a schoolmaster to the poor and ignorant." Though he is said to be a "product" of the heath, his aspirations are beyond their understanding, and his values are not theirs. Hardy says of him "that in striving at high thinking he still [cleaves] to plain living," an aspect of him that they are unable to square with his career in Paris in the diamond trade. The haircutting scene humorously reveals the inability of the heath people to understand or even to take Clym's plan seriously. They take in the wrong way all of his remarks about his life in Paris and cannot make out why such a conspicuous success as Clym should want to return to the heath to do anything.

Mrs. Yeobright's repeated concern over the possible "stain" on Thomasin's character because of the mishap in her first attempt to marry Wildeve reveals much about the kind of woman Clym's mother is. Community opinion is important to her, though she is looked upon by others and herself acts as an "aristocrat" of the area. She is also inflexible in her view of life and in distinguishing right from wrong. It is not surprising, then, that she should be unable either to understand or to approve of her son's idea of becoming a schoolteacher. She goes so far as to say that he is something less than a man for not showing ordinary ambition. She is intelligent enough, but her mind is restricted to a narrow view. She is a good deal less pliable in what she can accept than even the heath dwellers. She is the kind of mother who lives too much through her own child's life. A sharp clash of opinion between her and her son over his career and other matters seems inevitable.

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