Eustacia and Clym as Tragic Heroes in The Return of the Native

Philip V. Allingham, Faculty of Education, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Aristotle says that the tragic hero will most effectively evoke both our pity and terror if he [or she] is neither thoroughly good nor thoroughly evil but a mixture of both; and also that the tragic effect will be stronger if the hero is "better than we are," in the sense that he is of higher than ordinary moral worth. Such a man is exhibited as suffering a change in fortune from happiness to misery because of a mistaken act, to which he is led by his hamartia--his "error of judgment" or . . . tragic flaw. (One common form of hamartia in Greek tragedies was hubris, that "pride" or overweening self-confidence which leads a protagonist to disregard a divine warning or violate an important moral law.) M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms (1988): 190.

A. In his 31 January 1878 letter to illustrator Arthur Hopkins, Hardy rated Clym Yeobright as the most important character in the book, but described Eustacia as "the wayward & erring heroine" (Collected Letters I: 53). In Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist (1971), Michael Millgate accuses Eustacia of "impulsive actions . . . which drive the couple finally apart" but describes Clym as "Self-absorbed, isolated, humourless, . . . incapable of sympathetic communication with anyone outside himself" (139). Determine who is the book's tragic protagonist, Eustacia or Clym, using the points that Abrams and Millgate have raised.

B. Richard Benvenuto in "The Return of the Native as a Tragedy in Six Books" (Nineteenth-Century Fiction 26, 1: 83-93), instead of criticizing Hardy's violating the five-part structure of Greek tragedy, feels that "the sixth book reshapes the drama of the first five in a way that changes, qualitatively, our total experience of the novel" (83). Given the origins of tragic drama in fertility rites celebrating the rebirth of life every spring, suggest what the sixth book contributes to the tragedy of The Return of the Native.

C. In the famous "Queen of Night" passage (Norton edition p. 53-4), Hardy presents this insignificant young woman living in a remote corner of England in such a way that, as John Peck remarks in How to Study A Thomas Hardy Novel (1987), he "associates her with an irrational side of existence" (29). What does this Pateresque effusion contribute to Eustacia's becoming a tragic heroine?

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Last modified 18 September 2003