The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Book 3: Chapters 3-4

Summary

Clym goes to Captain Vye's, saying he wants to help with the lost bucket. He really wants to meet Eustacia. He meets her, and after she suffers a slight injury assisting him in getting water from the well, he tries to get her to admit she is the young woman he met in mummer's costume at Mrs. Yeobright's party. She will not admit anything, and they disagree over what the heath means to them.

Summary

Clym goes to Captain Vye's, saying he wants to help with the lost bucket. He really wants to meet Eustacia. He meets her, and after she suffers a slight injury assisting him in getting water from the well, he tries to get her to admit she is the young woman he met in mummer's costume at Mrs. Yeobright's party. She will not admit anything, and they disagree over what the heath means to them.

At home the next day, Mrs. Yeobright expresses annoyance at Clym's meeting Eustacia. But he continues to do so for the next few weeks until he and his mother quarrel bitterly over both his new career and his interest in Eustacia. Mrs. Yeobright is sure that he would not persist in his desire to be a teacher if he had not met Eustacia.

The next evening, Clym meets Eustacia on Rainbarrow, the signal for their tryst being the start of an eclipse of the moon. Urged on by his mother's criticism of Eustacia, he wants to marry the girl, but Eustacia will not commit herself, preferring that he tell her of Paris. Finally, she does agree to marry him, thinking he will soon forget his desire to be a schoolmaster and then return to Paris with her.

Analysis

In the scene of the first meeting between Clym and Eustacia, Hardy makes the young woman the instigator of the encounter; however, since she has disguised herself as a mummer, she is not at first recognized as even a woman. When she is, she is in no position to reveal her identity since her appearance may strike Clym as merely whimsical. But in the scene of the second meeting, Clym is the instigator, though of course Eustacia makes sure she is available to meet him. She is more than willing to prolong the conversation with him and puts up with an injury to her hand with very little complaint. She shows her interest in him, in part, by frankly expressing her opinion of Egdon Heath, perhaps thinking he will share it or at least challenging him in her comment.

The scene in which Eustacia finally agrees to marry Clym occurs on Rainbarrow and is lighted by a moon that slowly moves into an eclipse. The symbolism of Rainbarrow has already been mentioned, and certainly Clym's meeting Eustacia here, as Wildeve has before, is a sign of his moving into her orbit. If Rainbarrow symbolizes her view of life, Egdon Heath might be said to symbolize Clym's. It might be added that Paris appears here and elsewhere as an ambiguous symbol: it represents all that is lively and worth living for to Eustacia and all that is idle and valueless to Clym.

Hardy's use of the moon as a symbol is noteworthy. When Eustacia makes her appearance on Rainbarrow, the moon begins to go into eclipse; by the time she has promised to marry Clym and they part, the eclipse is almost full. The significance for both their lives is plain enough. When Clym observes the moon before the eclipse and Eustacia's arrival, he sees it as perhaps "some world where personal ambition [is] not the only recognized form of progress" and imagines himself exploring its solitary wildness. Eustacia, after agreeing to marry Clym, reads into it her own meaning: "Clym, the eclipsed moonlight shines upon your face with a strange foreign color, and shows its shape as if it were cut out in gold. That means that you should be doing better things than this." Both readings are idealistic and romantic but represent conflicting images.

These conflicting ideas of what Clym should be produce one of the large ironies of the novel, clearly shown here. Eustacia wants Clym as the avenue to a glamorous life; Clym has returned to Egdon Heath to live a life of service. She promises to be his "for ever and ever," but is sure he "will never adhere to [his] education plan" and will eventually take her to Paris. He asks her to marry him but thinks of her as a helpmate in his desire to be a "schoolmaster to the poor and ignorant." Clym is painfully conscious of the dilemma he now finds himself in: "Three antagonistic growths [have] to be kept alive: his mother's trust in him, his plan for becoming a teacher, and Eustacia's happiness." He is also somewhat, though not fully, aware of the irony of the cross-purposes in his relationship with Eustacia. Whatever her reasons, Mrs. Yeobright is, in fact, right: Eustacia is the wrong woman for Clym. But as Hardy implies, all human beings, like Clym, pay little attention to what is right in fact. Or perhaps Hardy means to say men are fated to do the very thing that is wrong for them.

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