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The Return of the Native
The Return of the Native
by Thomas Hardy
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The Return of the Native Theme of Language and Communication

The Return of the Native begins with some seriously old-fashioned communication techniques: signal fires. The communication strategy of choice for desert island castaways (like in Pirates of the Caribbean) and Middle-earth denizens trying to rally the troops (think The Return of the King). So what's with the use of signal fires in The Return of the Native? There's nothing epic going on as far as we can tell. Well, kicking off the book with signal fires and practically no dialogue for the first few chapters really helps to set the tone for the rest of it, which is often light on dialogue as well. Communication, when it occurs at all, is often unspoken and is heavily reliant on actions, interpretations, silences, and symbols. Objects often speak louder than actions and words here – see Mrs. Yeobright's reaction to seeing Clym's boots by his door, or Diggory's response to Thomasin's glove. These objects convey more meaning than a lengthy conversation could to these characters.

But when people do decide to start speaking, it's often astonishingly blunt and eloquent. The conversations in this book even border on theatrical – people speechify and deliver monologues and have very snappy dialogue. Yet no one seems to really hear anyone else when they speak – characters often speak at one another and not with one another. See Eustacia and Clym's courtship conversations, in which neither seems to really register what the other is saying. All communication boils down to subjective interpretation, which of course means that people have more than their share of misunderstandings. So it's really fitting that the novel concludes with Clym as a poor preacher who mainly talks to himself.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Thomasin and Eustacia are quite different, but they can both be very blunt and direct when they speak. How do their speaking styles reveal underlying similarities between these two women?
  2. Are there any similarities between the speech styles and patterns of Damon and Clym? What can we learn about these two characters, and their possible similarities, from how they talk and what they say?
  3. What role does communication play in the complex relationship between Clym and his mother?
  4. What impact does the use of local dialect have on the novel's overall tone and style?

Chew on This

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

Non-verbal communication plays a more important role than verbal communication in this novel.

The letters that Clym never writes to his mother or sends to Eustacia epitomize the major flaws of Clym's character and the major theme of the book: miscommunication.

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