The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Book 5: Chapter 9

Summary

Having left with a horse and gig, Wildeve waits below the inn for Eustacia. But it is Clym who approaches, looking for Eustacia, and just as he and Wildeve recognize each other, Clym hears what is clearly a body falling into the swollen stream adjoining Shadwater Weir. Both men, sure it is Eustacia who has fallen in or jumped, rush to her aid. Wildeve is less cautious, jumping in as soon as he sees her body; Clym goes to the rescue after trying to determine how best to go about it. Here comes another coincidence: Venn, now approaching with Thomasin. Seeing what's happened with Eustacia, Venn sends Thomasin to the inn then dives into the water and rescues both men. With the help that arrives, Venn retrieves Eustacia's body, but only Clym survives.

Venn, in the inn, watches a servant dry the bank notes that were in Wildeve's pockets and must tell Charley, who calls on the Captain's behalf, that Eustacia is dead. Clym appears and takes both Venn and the young man upstairs to see the bodies of Eustacia and Wildeve. To Venn, Clym blames himself for his wife's death.

Analysis

It is a year and a day since the first scene in the novel. As most critics have pointed out, Hardy observes the Aristotelian unity of time in this book, as well as the unity of place. It is, therefore, of some interest that the novel doesn't end here; there is still Book Sixth to come. The final book is Hardy's concession to his readers.

If the storm on the heath is a melodramatic symbol, so also is the stream near the weir. In any literary work, water can be a symbol of either death or life, or even both. In nineteenth-century novels, water was almost always a symbol of death. And water was frequently used as a means of suicide. Some critics have raised the question of whether Eustacia's death was a suicide, but the question seems hardly worth raising. Everything in the novel — specific foreshadowing, the tendency of events, the theme Hardy is demonstrating — points to suicide.

It is ironic that both Clym and Wildeve attempt to rescue Eustacia: her husband and her lover, from both of whom she is really estranged. Even more ironic is the fact that neither is able to do so and must themselves be pulled out by the ever-present Venn, Hardy's connector in the plot. Clym insists he's the cause of his wife's death, as earlier he has broken down under the self-accusation about his mother's death. Unlike Eustacia, Clym seems unaware of the notion that man is faced with an incomprehensible universe. In Book Sixth he overtly refuses, as Hardy says, to blame Destiny or God for his lot in life. Whatever Clym may think, his own life serves as one of the prime examples of what Hardy is trying to say in the book.

So, the fall of the curve of structure is now complete. First, Mrs. Yeobright; now, Eustacia and Wildeve. Clym is left with nothing, except perhaps the dregs of his plans. Hardy has Venn sum up as he sits in the kitchen of the Quiet Woman Inn: "Two were corpses, one had barely escaped the jaws of death, another was sick and a widow." The heath remains as it was in the beginning: untouched, unmoved.

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