We get the feeling that we have actually met the various persons whom Hardy portrays in his fiction. His characters are made of solid flesh and blood like Clym and Eustacia. They are recognizable human beings and their conversation, actions, irritations, annoyances and quarrels perfectly convincing. It has been said that Hardy’s great success is with subtle characters. But the fact is that his men and women are the most vividly realized when they are simple, primal characters: rustics such as Grandfer and Christian Cantle, sturdy countrymen like Diggory Venn.; passionate wayward women such as Eustacia and plausible rogues such as Wildeve. The portrayal of male characters are admirable, he perhaps succeeds ever better in the treatment of men than women. This choice of his characters leads him away from intellectual complexities which delight most novelists. If his best characters are not subtle, the art that describes them is surely one; for he can record the minutest fluctuations of emotional experiences — write the problems in the relationships of the characters and discuss them— such as incompatibility of Eustacia etc. Hardy introduces each of his principal characters with a vivid description of the personal appearance. The reddleman is described “as young and, if not exactly handsome, approaching very near to handsome.” Wildeve is quite a young man. The grace of his movement is singular. It is “the pantomimic expression of a lady-killing career.” Eustacia is “full-limbed and somewhat heavy and soft to the touch as a cloud. She has pagan eyes, full of nocturnal mysteries.”
Introduction: In the field of characterization, Hardy’s talent, as compared with that of some great novelists, is narrow. His memorable characters all have a family likeness, but there is no doubt about the realistic quality of Hardy’s character portrayal. He makes his characters live in almost vital manner.
The portrayal of Eustacia: RETURN OF THE NATIVE contains some of Hardy’s greatest characters, notably Eustacia and Clym. Her rebellious nature and force of will are for what Hardy calls her, “the raw material of the divinity”. She is the most powerfully-drawn woman in the Hardy’s portrait-gallery. Her selfishness, her charms and beauty, her uncontrolled passions do not blind us to her celestial imperiousness. Hardy suggests that she is a goddess in her power. She has a femme fatale in her power to arouse passions in others and Cleopatra in her pride, her passion and her scorn of consequences. She is Hardy’s greatest creations whom no reader is likely to forget. She herself is responsible for the tragedy that befalls her. These are the factors which put her to tragedy: Her unsatisfied longing to be taken to Paris and her Hatred of Heath are the main factors governing her fate. She was attracted towards Clym simply by the hope that she would be taken to Paris. She was also aware of his deficiencies and she frankly confessed to Clym that she didn’t have the makings of a good house-wife. But she also told him that she loved him and that she could sacrifice her dream of Paris for him, “ To be your wife in Paris would be heaven to me; but I would rather live with you in a hermitage here than not be yours at all.” In spite of this her desire of Paris never perished. Her reaction to Clym’s furze-cutting, her renewed interest in Wildeve, Her failure to open the door, and her final decision and death are all the factors which contribute to her tragedy. Eustacia’s own weaknesses and lapses play a large part in bringing about the tragedy. Her love of gaiety and fashion, her worldliness and incapacity to appreciate her husband’s lofty nature and her inconsistency are the powerful factors.
Mrs. Yeobright’s character: Mrs. Yeobright has been vividly portrayed. Her love for her son is her most outstanding quality. With it she combines a strength and firmness of mind, a shrewdness and sagacity. She has a practical mind especially in her assessment of Eustacia. Her opposition to her son’s educational plans shows her narrow-mindedness.
The portrayal of Clym: His portrayal is much less complex. His aversion to materialistic and fashionable life of Paris, his great love for her mother, his decision to be a school teacher and educator and his acceptance of his misfortune all make him a convincing character. The delineation of his character has superbly been made by Hardy.
Diggory Venn: In the portrayal of Diggory Venn, too Hardy is matchless. He represents the honest, steadfast, devoted, self-sacrificing and selfless lover. Some of us remain unconvinced by the selfless love he expresses towards Thomasin. It would be seen that he has nothing else to do but safeguard the interests of his farmer sweetheart.
Wildeve’s character: Wildeve is the villain whose conduct arouses disgust in our minds. He is depicted as casual, irresponsible, selfish, pleasure-loving and even callous. He plays with the hearts of girls, marries one of them and runs away. He strongly reminds us of Sergeant Troy in Far From the Madding Crowd. He has attractive manners and amiable nature. He partly redeems himself by sacrificing his life for Eustacia. The character of Wildeve is convincing.
Contrasted Portrays: One important aspect of Hardy’s characterization is the contrasting portraits of his characters. Mrs Yeobright and Eustacia are as unlike each other as any two women could be. The one honest and devoted; the other, unscrupulous and inconstant in love. Cly is contrasted with both Diggory and Wildeve. He portrays men though in a narrow range, but he delineates women eminently. There are three women characters in the novel. Eustacia, Mrs. Yeobright and Thomasin (Compare them). There are only three main male characters; Clym, Wildeve and Diggory Venn (Compare them here).
The Egdon Heath: In delineating the various characters, Hardy makes use of the natural environment in which these characters live. Egdon Heath is not only the scene of the story; it dominates the plot and determines the characters. (write attitude of different characters to Heath)
The Rustic Group: We cannot ignore the rustic group of characters. Although they appear here as a group, yet they have been individualized too. (Write their function and qualities)