With close reference to two or three moments in the text, discuss Hardy’s ability to create mood, atmosphere and a sense of place.
Throughout “The return of the native”, Thomas Hardy is very successful in creating mood and atmosphere. Some scenes are so descriptive that a very clear mental picture can be formed by the reader, causing a distinct sense of place. It seems that through his words, Hardy is submerging the readers into his story letting us take part only as an onlooker.
It is at the beginning that the strongest mood, the heaviest atmosphere and the most obvious sense of place occurs, as once the scene is set and the characters are introduced, scenery is much repeated.
The book opens with an in-depth description of the heath. This is a perfect example of Hardy’s ability to clearly describe a scene, giving us a sense of place, situating us on the heath. This heath, although seemingly merely the geographic location of the story, plays a very significant role.
The role and symbolism of the heath are truly explored through some of Hardy’s statements. “The heavens being spread with this pallid screen, the earth with the darkest vegetation, their meeting-line at the horizon was clearly marked”. This is highlighting the vivid contrast between the ground and the sky, leaving the reader with an image of the wild expanse of vegetation. Hardy describes the nature of the heath with the words “It was at present a place perfectly accordant with man’s nature – neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly: neither… unmeaning, nor tame; but like man slighted and enduring…”. This is a description of the heath, which leaves the reader with a stronger sense of place, having now learned to come to grips with the ambiguity of the image. He is also creating an atmosphere of mystery, of a silence that envelops the heath and the reader. Also Hardy creates a strange mood, he seems to be playing with immortality and an unchanging power when describing the scene. “The sea changed, the fields changed, the rivers, the villages, and the people changed, yet Egdon remained”. Throughout the whole of the first chapter, Hardy is creating a strong sense of place as well as establishing clearly the mood and atmosphere of Egdon Heath. Further on, although still at the beginning of the book, Hardy introduces the heath people. In this introduction, the various characters that will be important throughout the story appear the simplicity of their personalities being focused on by the author. It is at this first gathering round the fires that people are explored in depth, as before this incident, it is the heath that has taken the central position and therefore has had all of Hardy’s attention. The near complete darkness does not allow the reader to learn about the features of the people yet a clear understanding of the way they live, their customs and the place around them is achieved. Hardy uses these fires as a symbol, not only in this scene, but also in other chapters throughout the book. In this case, the fires are simple instruments of celebration yet they lead in to the core of the story. To describe the impact of the fire, Hardy uses rich images, to create both mood and atmosphere; “those whom Nature had depicted as merely quaint became grotesque, the grotesque became preternatural; for all was in extremity.” To describe the fire itself he uses the expression “the nimble flames towered, nodded, and swooped through the surrounding air”. The beauty of this image again leads the reader to feel that Hardy has created perfectly a sense of place, as well as exploiting the scenery to cause mood and atmosphere.
Another point in the text in which Hardy’s ease in creating both mood and atmosphere is shown is in chapter six of the first Book. In this, two of the main characters Eustacia and Wildeve, begin to thread the story, as it is from this first encounter that disaster finally envelops all the characters. At this first meeting, Hardy works mostly on the atmosphere both of the place and between the characters. “Around her stretching the vast night atmosphere, whose incomplete darkness in comparison with the total darkness of the heath below it might have represented a venial beside a mortal sin”. It is in this incomplete darkness that Eustacia waits for Wildeve, and it could be that Hardy is foretelling the end, this is the place where a venial sin may be seen to take place, and it leads to the tragic death of both characters, perhaps as a punishment. The whole of the chapter portrays Eustacia as being strong, her strength being used manipulatively at first; “the little slave went on feeding the fire. He seemed a mere automaton, galvanized into moving and speaking by the wayward Eustacia’s will”. This strength is complimented by her self-confidence, further on in the chapter; “…the fire-light shone full upon her face and throat, said with a majestic smile, “have you ever seen anything better than that in your travels.”” Eustacia has the confidence to realise that she is beautiful and can use this beauty to her advantage. However, her strength is finally no use to her, and it is what could be seen as the weakest character, Thomasin, that achieves happiness. She is the only character that ends the story well, as with the death of Wildeve she is free to leave a Marriage where she was greatly unhappy and marry the reddleman.
Hardy shows, throughout “The return of The Native”, that he is successful in drawing up images inside the readers mind. He creates mood and atmosphere easily with a varied use of description and contradicting images. He gives the reader a sense of place, by which it seems that although they are there, and know what is going to happen, there is no way they can help the characters. The reader is left close enough to feel most of the action, yet are powerless to intervene. This shows Hardy to be very successful in creating mood, atmosphere and a sense of place.
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