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The Return of the Native

The Return of the Native


by Thomas Hardy

The Return of the Native Theme of Family

Families in The Return of the Native can be vicious. No one can hold a grudge quite like a family member and no one an offer up loyalty quite like one either. The family relationship at the heart of this novel is the intense, strained bond between Clym and his mother. Their relationship comes to a breaking point when Clym fails to meet his mother's expectations for him and he marries Eustacia. But the other families here are also far from neat and tidy. Thomasin and Eustacia have very shady backgrounds in terms of their parents, and the families we do see are plagued by distance (emotional and physical) as well as death. It's notable that we hardly see any examples of functioning nuclear families, with both a mom and a dad around. The only really successful parent we see is Thomasin with her daughter, but even that is a case of a broken home since Thomasin's husband nearly abandoned her and then died, leaving her a widow.

Questions About Family

  1. We don't really see any successful nuclear families in this book – it's definitely not Happy Days, with two parents and their happy children. How do these broken up and fragmented families play a role in the novel's themes and tone?
  2. All of our main characters lack at least one parent – Thomasin and Eustacia are orphans, while Clym and Diggory lack fathers. How is this detail thematically significant and how does it help link these characters together?
  3. Though her marriage is troubled, Thomasin is very upset at the idea of her daughter growing up without a father. Why might Thomasin have had such a reaction and what does it tell us about her character?
  4. Damon is nearly the only character whose family is never mentioned. How does this set him apart from the others? Is this detail important to understanding his character?
  5. The Cantles are about as weird a family as they come. What role does the Cantle family play in the story as a whole? Is it just comic relief or is there something else going on in the relationship between Christian and his father?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Clym has an Oedipus complex; he's a bit too fond of his mother and it borders on being unhealthy.

Clym has a normal relationship with his mother until after her death, at which point he begins to deify her in hindsight.

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