Thomas Hardy’s novel, The Return of the Native was influenced greatly by naturalistic ideals. Hardy cultivated his rural setting, Egdon heath, to be a place that strongly influences the main character of the novel and supports his theme of “survival of the fittest”.
Eustacia Vye, the anti-heroine of the novel, was forced to live in Egdon with her grandfather. The Heath often serves as an excuse for Eustacia’s poor life decisions such as her clandestine romances or her almost-adultery. She claimed “Egdon was her hades” (Hardy 72) and constantly dreamt of moving to far-away places such as America. Eustacia was constantly described as a witch or mystical creature, and the narrator himself even admitted that Eustacia could have been a very different person, had she lived somewhere else. It was just this particular town that caused Eustacia’s dismay.
This is how Thomas Hardy uses Eustacia to demonstrate the ideal of Naturalism and his theme of the novel, survival of the fittest. She is portrayed as someone who is out of place and doesn’t quite fit into her surroundings; her emotions are being controlled like a puppet on a string. We can infer that because she is so disappointed with her living arrangements, she will always be unhappy while being retained on Egdon Heath.
The Heath is a place established as traditional and cultured; Darwin’s popular concept “survival of the fittest” is being applied to this society. Eustacia is greatly influenced by where she lives, further demonstrating a naturalistic ideal. We can conclude, that Hardy focuses his whole novel, The Return of the Native, around its country setting in Egdon. All characters respond and evolve around the environment that they are a part of. Eustacia is simply an example of a character that suffers from a stifling atmosphere.
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