Egdon Heath as an Example of Fate.

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In Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native the setting is more than just a place, it’s practically a character. Egdon Heath, the area where the entire book takes place, controls the fate of all the people who live there. Freewill is not possible. The lives of everyone there are controlled by their destinies. If they try to change that the heath will show it’s wrath and make certain that the character either stays in line or is destroyed. Egdon Heath is an all-powerful being that controls everything that happens on it. Hardy, who followed the guidelines for a Greek tragedy, made Egdon Heath to represent the gods who controlled the destiny and fate of all the people on earth. Immortal and indestructible is the “face in which time makes little impression”; controller and ultimately “god” of the mortal humans who walk it’s face (Hardy 11).

Simple, naïve, innocent people live on the heath; most do not question their lives of furze-cutting.

It was the life they were born to, destined to. The majority does not mind their lives, but when someone knew there was a better life out there and strove for it, she felt the wrath of the heath. Eustacia never likes the heath. From the moment she arrives she feels the need to escape. Excitement is needed in her life and to obtain it she would do anything. Budmouth was her original home, an exciting port city, but then with her move to Egdon she immediately sees what a monotonous place the heath really is. To stir up some excitement, she adds men to her life. First she brings Wildeve into her life, a man who is destined to marry Thomasin. This man is not only exciting, but may prove to be a way out, but then destiny takes hold and the marriage of Thomasin and Wildeve occurs. Then when Clym returned home from the big city of Paris, Eustacia sees an even better route of escape; she quickly marries him and realizes there is no escape in the husband she has chosen. Fate controls her life; Egdon controls her destiny. This woman is never to leave the heath. The shotguns are taken away, her dreams of Paris stifled by an unwilling husband and lack of money, and at the end, when she is so close to escape, the heath took her. She is destined to stay on the heath, that is the life that was planned out for her. Egdon could not let her try to escape her fate. Because of her persistency to leave, the heath had to kill her. The fate of this poor woman had been determined; she had to stay, even if that meant dying on the heath.

Destiny, controlled by the heath, did not only affect Eustacia’s life; all of the characters are captured in the heath’s inescapable grasp. Returning from Paris, Clym had plans to enlighten the people who lived among him at Egdon Heath. He wanted to try to raise the people of the heath up from just being ordinary, uneducated furze-cutters. The people on the heath are destined to stay as they are; Egdon Heath does not change, especially not because of the actions of one man. The plans of Clym’s were disrupted when his eyesight was ruined, never to be able to read again. Instead of fighting his fate, as Eustacia did, he accepted it. Gladly he took up the occupation of the land and quickly found joy in it; “the monotony of his occupation soothed him, and was in itself pleasure”(252). Then, the night that the heath took his wife from him, he showed great respect to the heath. Unlike Wildeve, who just “leaped into the boiling caldron” in which Eustacia’s body was floating, Clym slowly walked into the weir pool (367). That night, he too had to be rescued from the dangerous taker of lives, but he survived. The heath allowed him to stay alive because he had always accepted his fate. But in the end he was a changed man, no longer wise and optimistic, but guilt-stricken and despondent. Becoming a preacher to whom no one was to be enlightened by but just felt pity for. This is what he had been destined to and, as the rest of his fate, he accepted it. He knew it was not up to man’s law to punish him, but god’s law (or the heath’s law); “for what I have done no man or law can punish me!”(374).

Two characters were happy when the story came to a close: Thomasin and Diggory Venn. Both were characters that did not fight against their fate. Marriage to Wildeve was the destiny of Thomasin and watching from afar was Diggory’s fate. They both, unwillingly, followed their pre-chosen futures without much of a fight. One with nature is how Diggory lived his life, before his happy ending with Thomasin; he lived in a wagon on the land, owned two heath-croppers, and had elements of the earth itself, reddle, imbedded in his skin. Becoming so close to nature, the heath granted him happiness in the end. The same goes for Thomasin. She worked in her garden, had a child, and became a woman of the heath. These two characters, unlike the others, followed their fates and were rewarded in the end, with marriage to each other.

The heath, a main character of this tragedy, has ultimate say in anything that happens on it’s face. He tries to control Eustacia, but she refuses to accept the fact that she is destined to stay on the heath. Clym tries to enlighten the people of his land, but the heath acts back and takes away his ability to do so. Then there are the characters that do as they are destined to and end up with happiness. This personification of the land on which the characters of Hardy’s novel live is vital to the meaning of the book people do not have freewill, only fates and destines controlled by a greater force. This force, represented by Egdon Heath, has the power to give people extreme happiness or the greatest of grief. Either way, Hardy tells his readers that the lives of everyone have a predetermined future and if the pathway to that future is disrupted then the greater powers will take over and invoke that person’s destiny.

Bibliography:The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.