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Themes

In The Return of the Native, memory is like a living, breathing thing on the heath. The heath might be memory personified in a way – it's constantly linked to ruins and artifacts and the past, like a living ancient being. However, nature isn't the only thing tied to the past – certain characters are, too. For example, Eustacia is often mentioned in the same sentence as ancient myths and imagery. But memory is also a powerful motivating force for these characters. Memory is something they experience and feel. We can see how memories of lost love drive the actions of Diggory Venn and Eustacia. And recollections of happier times in the past make the falling-out between Mrs. Yeobright and Clym that much more painful. In a way, the past is never really past in this novel – it lingers on in people's memories, in the ruins found in the heath, in the very atmosphere of the heath itself.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How do historical images, such as the ruins on the heath, and historical references help to set the tone of the novel?
  2. The past is a major theme in the novel, but the story itself takes place in just a year. How is this contrast significant?
  3. All of our main characters seem to have good memories and tend to dwell on the past – how is memory both a good and a bad thing in the book?
  4. In what ways is the past directly linked to the natural world? How does the imagery, symbolism, and diction of the novel forge this connection between nature and the past?

Chew on This

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

Due to her strong connection to the heath, Eustacia is most strongly linked to the past, despite her longing for the modern, urban world.

By choosing an outcast job, Diggory also chooses to renounce the present so that he can wallow in the past and never get over Thomasin.

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