Thomas Hardy’s Philosophy of Life: Analysing His Novel, The Return of The Native

"Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon Heath to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in its simplicity."
Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928)

Towards the end of the novel Tess of D’Urbervilles, Hardy says that if Aeschylus had been the author of the novel, he would have described the story of Tess as a game played by the president of the Immortal. Hardy seeks to suggest that according to Aeschylus man is but a toy in the hands of some supreme powers which may suitably be called the president of the immortality. Whether Aeschylus exclusively advocates the supremacy of fate or some Devine power is a question which is not without controversy. But since our subject is Hardy, and Aeschylus, we should not enter into the thorny area of Aeschylus is fatalism. Hardy seems to be much in common with Shakespeare in so far as his tragic vision is concerned. Shakespeare thinks that though there is divinity that shapes our end, we are also party responsible for our consequences. Some say that Shakespeare is out to illustrate the formula – ‘character is destiny’ what Shakespeare intends to do, is to emphasize the reality that tragedy is a joint product of both character ad fate and circumstances. Macbeth, for example, is over ambitious. But this is not excursively the cause of his fall. He meets the weird sisters at a crucial time. He marries a lady who adds fuel to the fire of his ambition. King Duncan takes the initiative in visiting the castle of Macbeth at a crucial hour. All these factors jointly prepare the ground which eventually proves to be the grave of Macbeth has his fall partly for his vaulting ambition and partly for a set of situations. Hardy insists on this format of joint responsibility, especially in his novel, The Return of The Native. The novel records the life of a man, called Clym Yeobright who is strikingly above the average. Though he has many starting qualities, he has his flaw too. He is extremely obstinate and terribly idealistic. But whatever his flaw there may be in his character, he alone is not responsible for the tragic catastrophe of the novel. He is confronted to a number of adverse situations. And the combination of his flaw and the unfavourable situations bring about his disaster.

Some say that Hardy views life from the standpoint of pessimist. But to call Hardy a mere pessimist is to do injustice to the richness and perplexity of his art. Far from being a pessimist, Hardy stands out as a chronicler of true tragedies. Pessimism emphasizes the entity of life. It proclaims a philosophy of negation. But one who is a tragic artist not only focuses on the sorry affairs of life but also discovers the surge grandeur underlying beneath the apparent soreness of life.  In this context we should do well to quote Hardy, “the business of a tragedy is to represent simultaneously the sorries underlying the grandest things and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things”. The poem The Darkling Thrush may be recalled in this connection. The poem offers the exact tragic vision of Hardy. Hardy stresses the suffering of man and yet what he seeks to locale is the beauty that suffering diffuses. When a hero suffers, he does not succumb to his situation. On the contrary, he puts up a sound resistance and finds undo, the last. In The Return of The Native, Clym Yeobright and Eustycia Vya are surrounded with obstacles that they cannot release themselves from the trap. But this is not to they give up struggling. The more they struggle, the more theysuffers. But suffering cannot daunt them. Of late, an American critic has said, “resistance is the staple of Argue”. Hardy is novel, almost all of them, and Native is particular fairly conform to this idea advocated by the American scholar. 

Thomas Hardy
 “She is the second woman I have lutted this year. I was a great cause of my mother’s death. And I am the chief cause of hers - - - - - what I have done no man or law can punish me.”.. So goes the self – criticism of Clym Yeobright is the chapter The Discovery. And the quoted lines exactly constitute the core of Hardy’s Philosophy of life. Clym Yeobright is not king or a prince like Lear or Hamlet. He starts his life as a humble diamond merchant. But the glitter and pomp of Paris along with its artificiality hardly make Clym contented with a lofty moral principle of educating his poor country folk; he comes by from Paris to Egdon. But the native return only to hasten his doom by marrying a girl of just of his opposite temperament: ‘Take all the varying hates felt by Eustacia Vya towards the heath, and translates them into loves, and you have the heart of Clym.’ But Knowing this inherent antagonism is their respective character and knowing it fully well that Eustacia wants to lead a life of poetry, music, pomp and grandeur of Paris, Clym married her at the spur of emotional ecstasy. Clym can hardly reconcile with his mother in his proposed plan of staying in Egdon and teaching the illiterate comedy folk. Nor he can reconcile with this wife who has virtually married Clym to make him an effective instrument to escape Egdon and to fly to Paris. Not being able to adjust himself to the adverse situation and circumstances which are partly the byproduct of his own misunderstanding, Clym ultimately holds himself responsible for the tragedy of Eustacia and his mother Not that Clym does not love his mother and wife. He loves them, though he cannot understand them. He fails to strike a balance between his mother and wife. Clym is, indeed, as unsuitable for Eustacia as she for him. But though Clym is responsible for the most part, the contribution of some chances, accidents and coincident to the tragic intensity of the novel cannot be lost sight of the visit of Mrs. Yeobright to the house of her son at a line Wildeve  is present can be mentioned as a case of mere accident. What happens in the chapter? The Closed Door is largely the handiwork of some chance or accidental happenings. Mrs. Yeobright is bitten by an adder at a time when Clym makes desperate search for his mother with the hope of reconciliation. After the death of his mother Clym suffers a long separation from Eustacia. He realized that his hard words wound the sentiment of Eustacia and he must take the initiative for reconciliation. He writes a letter which by chance, fails to reach to Eustacia causing a wide gap between the two. But clym, remorse and repentant as he is now, starts to meet Eustacia just at a time when Eustacia having no meaning for her survival in this earth goes out to meet Wildeve amidst torrential rain and storm and chances to fall into bog. There is no hope for Clym to bring the master amicably souffle. But he could have made every good for Eustacia only if he could. But by the sudden stoke of chance and accidence on the death of Eustacia Clym’s effort too is set it right. These happenings are also responsible for the tragedy of the chief protagonist of the novel. So Hardy tragic vision can be best summed up by the words of Eustacia herself: “How I have tried and tried to be a splendid woman and how destiny has been against me! - -  - I do not deserve my lot. On, the cruelty of putting me into this ill – conceived world! Oh how hard it is of heaven to device such for me, who have done no HARM to heaven at all!”  

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert,      
     2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta

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