A child is a bundle of unrealised possibilities. He comes into this world ready fitted with a number of instincts, impulses, traits, tendencies, disposition, etc., which he has derived from his parents and through them from his grand parents, and even from his remote ancestors. Soon after birth he is also subjected to a number of influences from the environment in which he happens to have been born. The nature and moral principles of the parents, their financial position, the size of the family, society and social conventions, all influence the growing child. Thus his life and character are the resultant of the action and interaction of heredity and environment. In all his major novels, Hardy displays a keen interest in these two formative influences i.e., heredity and environment.
The Importance of Environment
All the critics of Hardy have recognised the importance of heredity and environment in his works. Thus Compton-Rickett observes : “His figures are elemental forces : they are the natural expressions of sleepy woodland places, gaunt, austere hills, purling streams, lonely open spaces.” Stressing the influence of environment on character, Grimsditch in his well-known book, “Character and Environment in Hardy”, remarks : “Destiny subjects his (man) to a number of external influences, the sum total of which make up his environment and this plays a large part in the development of his character.”
The Unfavourable Early Environment of Eustacia
Environment has considerable influence in the formation of Eustacia’s character. She had passed the formative years of her life in the fashionable watering city of Budmouth. The glitter of the town, its fashions and its artificiality, have entered her very soul and her one passion in life is to go to a city like Paris and there enjoy life to its full. The early memories haunt her through life and lead to her undoing. It is for this reason that she reacts unfavourably to her later environment, Egdon Health. She cannot adjust herself to these changed surroundings. She considers it her Hades, her prison, and wants to get out of it as early as possible.
Equally far reaching is the influence of Heredity on the formation of Eustacia’s character. Her father was a bandmaster and it is from him that she has inherited her passion for love and life. It is for this reason that the lure of the town is too much for her. She craves for the frivolous amusements of the town …… the dance, the song and the gay parties.
Environment and Heredity Determine Character
It thus becomes clear that both environment and heredity play an important part in the formation of Eustacia’s character. The interaction of these two factors determines the character, life and suffering of Eustacia. It is environment and heredity which also determine the character of Clym. From his father he has inherited his simplicity and lack of ambition, and from his mother, her firmness and strength of character. Bred and brought up in Egdon he is in tune with environment, and reacts unfavourably to his Paris environment.
Therefore, he gives up his job in Paris and returns to Egdon. It is his return which causes such suffering and tragedy in the lives of all the important characters in the novel.
Thus it is seen that in The Return of the Native, heredity and environment determine character and lead to tragedy.