Clym is the hero of the Return of the Native. It is his return from Paris, which leads to tragedy in his own life, in the life of Etistacia, and in the lives of Wildeve and Mrs. Yeobright. His return to his native heath and its tragic consequences are the theme of the novel.
Aristotle had laid down that a tragic hero must be a man of eminence, an exceptional individual, and Shakespeare, too, follows this very dictum. But Clym is no exalted personage. His father was a humble farmer, he belongs to the lower stratum of society, and takes to the humble work of a furze-cutter to earn his living. His station in life is humble, but his tragedy is an poignant and intense as that of any king or any character drawn from the highest ranks of society.
Tragedy in his life is brought about by his unpractical idealism. Unpractical idealism is the “tragic flaw’ of his character. Clym is an uncompromising idealist, unrelenting in the pursuit of his ideals without taking into consideration the realities of a particular situation. He gives up his lucerative job in Paris and returns to Egdon with his Utopian scheme of educating the rustics of the heath. He does not realise that the natives of Egdon care only for money, for material advancement and do not care for, or realise the value of, intellectual development. They do not care for study, and it will never be possible to educate them. Thus his idealistic plan is doomed from the very beginning, but Clym has no understanding of his situation. As Eustacia puts it, “He is an enthusiast about ideas, careless about outward things.”
As an idealist, Clym is sincere, selfless and firm of purpose, but he has no understanding of life or of human nature. Just as he fails to understand the nature of the Egdon-folk, so also he fails to understand the character of Eustacia. He fails to realise that she will never be happy in Egdon, and that she will never make a suitable school teacher. He fails to realise that she yearns for the pomp and glitter of city-life, which he himself despises and has given up.
It is Clym’s unpractical idealism which results in tragedy in his own life and the life of the other principal characters of the novel. His idealism is responsible for his tragedy to a very great extent. But it must also he remembered that chance also plays an important role in bringing about the tragedy. It is chance as well as his own character which are responsible for tragedy in the novel.