The Role of the Heath in Hardy's Return of the Native Essays

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The Role of the Heath in Hardy's Return of the Native

"Nature is the most thrifty thing in the world; she never wastes anything; she undergoes change, but there is no annihilation, the essence remains - matter is eternal," philosophizes Horace Binney. Egdon Heath, in Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native, behaves as Nature does in this quotation -- it undergoes seasonal shifts, but its essential quality remains. The heath takes on the role of a static influence on the characters' relationships and circumstances, demonstrating the unchanging nature of human experience through its own seasonal shifts, but still unaltered essence of tragedy.

As the story opens, it is November fifth, in the early winter. The beginning of winter is also
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A timid animal world had come to life for the season. (194-5)

Around the heath, new life is springing up. This new-sprung life on the heath personifies Clym and Eustacia's new-sprung love. Similar to the pond, it is not evident to the casual observer that a relationship exists between them; they keep their relationship hidden. Later in the spring, however, the buds of love begin to open, and Eustacia accepts Clym's offer of marriage. She seems to realize that this stage of their love is only a season, and will change. The night of the proposal, she points towards the moon, which is undergoing an eclipse, and says, "See how our time is slipping, slipping, slipping!" (202). The moon is another aspect of nature on the heath that reflects their relationship -- soon the night sky will return to its original state and the eclipse will fade. Eustacia subconsciously observes that their passion will fade as well. Just like the new fern of spring, their infatuation cannot live forever. The seasonal changes on the heath reflect the shifts in relationships and situations among Hardy's characters.

The summer brings the one entirely happy period in Clym and Eustacia's relationship, but soon overheats to tragedy. "The July sun shone over Egdon and fired its crimson heather to scarlet. It was the one season of the

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