The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Book 5: Chapters 2-3

Summary

Having recovered from his illness, Clym questions Christian Cantle — who has come to announce the birth of Thomasin's child — about the day his mother died, and discovers she planned to visit her son's house. Christian tells him that Venn talked with Mrs. Yeobright that day, and Clym is anxious to find the reddleman. When Venn calls, not knowing Mrs. Yeobright is dead, Clym learns from him that she forgave her son; but Clym is puzzled by the discrepancy between this and the remark Johnny repeated. From Johnny he then learns that Mrs. Yeobright was coming from Alderworth when he fell in with her and that a man preceded her to the house and Eustacia looked out but did not admit her.

Clym immediately accuses Eustacia of cruelty to his mother and deception of himself with another man. Restraining himself from striking her, he shouts at her until she can take no more, and she defends herself but without answering his questions. Then she leaves the house.

Shortly after, the servant tells Clym that Thomasin has decided to name her new baby Eustacia Clementine.

Analysis

Aroused by Christian's information, Clym sets out, determined to learn as much as he can about the day his mother died. His search necessarily leads him to Eustacia. This completes the irony begun in Chapter 1: it is not he who is immediately responsible for Mrs. Yeobright's death; though no one in fact bears responsibility, Eustacia provides the proximate cause of it.

In almost every particular, the accusation scene between Clym and Eustacia reminds us of a Shakespearean play, Othello perhaps. But Clym is a modern man, and unlike Othello does not put out his beloved's light; he exercises self-restraint. However, his rage is as towering as the Moor's: they are men who cannot be betrayed. Even the gestures (Clym's seizing the sleeve of Eustacia's gown, his smashing the desk) and the language ("By my wretched soul you sting me, Eustacia! I can keep it up, and hotly too." "Do you brave me? do you stand me out, mistress?") strike the eye and ear as Shakespearean. Like Othello Clym also "kills" in ignorance of the truth. Eustacia, though a very different character from Desdemona, realizes that nothing she can say will stop Clym from acting out his anger.

Clym's gesture of love, tying the strings of the bonnet Eustacia cannot manage, is both revealing and again reminiscent of the reluctance and gentleness with which Othello murders his wife. The greatest love can turn quickly to the deepest hatred.

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