The Return of the Native
by Thomas Hardy
Tools of Characterization
Hardy definitely uses direct characterization more than any other type in this novel, meaning that he usually just tells us what's up with these people. This can be nice, since we don't have to guess what people are all about here.
It may seem like there's not a lot to say about this form of characterization – after all, our Captain Obvious author pretty much takes care of it all for us. But, this type of characterization begs two important questions, which are worth considering. First, exactly how reliable are these blunt character descriptions and analyses? Do they really tell us everything we need to know about a character, or are they just the tip of the iceberg?
Secondly, how does this type of characterization impact the overall style of the novel? More than any other form of characterization, direct characterization has a, well, direct, impact on the novel's style. You can read more about the style here in our "Style" section and the narrator – you guessed it – in "Narrator Point of View."
This isn't one of the most consistently applied forms of characterization, meaning that it doesn't apply to every character. For example, we learn very little about Mrs. Yeobright's physical appearance and, accordingly, her looks seem to have a minimal impact on her character.
But looks are very important to our understanding of other characters, namely Eustacia, Thomasin, Clym, and Diggory. Eustacia's dark looks are discussed for pages on end. Thomasin is continually described as some sort of beautiful Madonna figure (as in, the mother of Jesus), which is fitting given her future role as the book's only young mother. The complexities of Clym's face are described for almost an entire chapter. And Diggory's red-tinted skin is probably his defining characteristic, especially in terms of how he's perceived by others.
It can be a bit difficult to determine anyone's social status on Egdon Heath. No one there is fabulously wealthy and everyone seems to live a fairly similar country life. However, we can see hints of class in the behavior and attitude of certain characters, especially Eustacia, Damon, and Mrs. Yeobright. Both Eustacia and Mrs. Yeobright came from slightly wealthier backgrounds than those around them, and Eustacia spent many crucial years of her life living in a city before getting stuck in Egdon. These two Mrs. Yeobrights are often snobby around the lower-class citizens of Egdon. Damon too is concerned with money and his social stature, and he's even downright rude to people below him on the social ladder. The secondary characters, the Egdon locals, are all largely characterized by their speech – they use local dialect when they speak, which sets them apart from characters like Eustacia, who uses proper grammar and more upper-class diction.
This one might seem obvious – after all, everyone spends the entire novel in the same place. But we're more interested in how characters react to where they are, than just knowing their physical location. Characters' varied relationships with the heath are a huge part of this novel, and tie in to many of the book's major themes (see "Man and the Natural World"). We learn a huge amount about various characters based on their responses to Egdon Heath. To learn more about the role the heath plays in the novel, and how it affects certain characters, check out the "Setting" section.
Money isn't featured very often in the novel, but when it does appear, it has a huge impact on the plot. But what money really does is reveal certain unpleasant truths about the characters. In this novel, money often acts a bit like a mirror and has the ability to reveal rather negative aspects about the people involved.
The drawn-out all-nighter gambling sequence definitely casts Christian, Damon, and Diggory in a pretty bad light, for one. Christian is shown to be very weak-willed and foolish as he gambles away the money entrusted to him by Mrs. Yeobright. And Damon is shown to be very selfish as he tries to win money that isn't his for himself. Damon also proves himself to be a terrible husband since he basically fails to support his wife and then tries to steal her money.
But how does Diggory look bad in all this? Well, his motives for gambling against Wildeve are initially sound – he's trying to stop Wildeve from taking money that is not his. But Diggory is interestingly described as an "automaton," a robot, throughout the gambling scene with Wildeve (3.8.11, 3.8.20, 3.8.33). Diggory becomes almost inhuman and is totally fixated on the game and the money and on beating Wildeve. And, to back this up, we see his fixation on money crop up again at the end of the novel.
"I have got so mixed up with business of one sort and t'other that my soft sentiments are gone off in vapour like. Yes, I am given up body and soul to the making of money. Money is all my dream." (6.2.29)
Money has a lot of power over people and can bring out the worst in them, or can change them into something "harder" than they were before.
Again, not all characters are characterized by their clothes; in fact, most are not. However, we felt it was worth mentioning since clothes do play a pretty significant role for a few characters, especially Eustacia and Clym. Eustacia's outfits are often described to us, and what's interesting is how her outfits can drastically change not only how Eustacia looks at any given time, but also how other characters respond to her. (Check out Clym's sympathetic reaction to the lovely Eustacia at 5.3.69). Others who are characterized by their clothes include: Diggory, who dons his one nice suit when he goes to woo Thomasin; Damon, who wears a new white suit when he comes into money; and Clym, whose "furze-cutting" outfit hugely defines his character after the onset, or start, of his vision problems.