The plot of the return of the Native has all the characteristic features of a typical Hardy-plot. For one thing, the plot is old fashioned. It is based on the conventional love-triangle i.e., two women loving one man or one man loving two women. The plot is made up of two love stories which are closely inter-linked to form a single whole. The two stories cross each other at several places. Indeed, in this novel, as C. Duffin points out, there is not merely a love-triangle but a rhomboid (a four cornered figure) with a tale. Clym and Wildeve both love Eustacia, and Wildeve and the Reddlcman both love Thomasin. Thus the love situation is more complicated than in the other novels of Hardy. The reddleman plays a significant role in both the stories and is an important connecting link.
We get in the novel the conventional villain and the conventional lover, faithful and devoted, ready to help the object of love even at the cost of his own happiness. Wildeve is the villain of the piece, and reddleman is the faithful lover, helping his beloved, unknown and unseen, and ultimately winning her love by his devotion and sincerity. The end of the Thomasin-reddleman love story is conventional. The villain is ultimately defeated, and the lovers are happily married.
The plot of the novel is dramatic. There is nothing superfluous in it. The story moves straight, without any digressions and side issues to the catastrophe. It is a novel constructed in scenes. As a building rises brick by brick, so also the plot of the novel is constructed scene by scene, each scene carrying the story a step forward towards the Catestrophe. The story opens with the masterly description of Egdon Heath, then there is the bonfire scene to be soon followed by the poetic description of Eustacia standing alone on the Rainbarrow. Wildeve and the reddleman gambling by the light of the glow-worms, the journey of Mrs. Yeobright across the heath, Wildeve and Eustacia dancing in the moonlight, etc., are some other memorable scenes in the novel.
The novel is also dramatic in the sense that there is much in it that is sensational, thrilling, and melodramatic. Indeed, this is one of the criticism brought against the novel. Wildeve is the conventional villain of a melodrama, well-dressed and handsome, making love to two women at one and the same time, ultimately eloping with one of them and deserting the other, and meeting his death by drowning. There are broken marriages, impersonations, casting of magic spells, etc., all lifted directly from a melodrama. The various tricks which the reddleman employs to frighten Wildeve arc melodramatic. Indeed, critic after critic has commented on the Jack-in-the box effect produced by his mysterious and sudden appearances at unexpected places.
Another fault of the plot of the novel, is the excessive use made of chance and coincidence. The Catastrophe in a novel must be inevitable and natural. It must follow logically from the events that have gone before. But in Tlie Return of the Native excessive role is assigned to chance; too much depends upon chance events. Chance events like Clym's murmuring in his sleep, "mother', just when Mrs. Yeobright knocks at the door, the chance delay of Clym's letter of reconciliation to Eustacia, are only two instances out of many. The result is that the plot of the novel looks artificial and unnatural.
Another fault of the plot is its double-ending. Wildeve-Eustacia story has a violent end, and the Catastrophe is terrible. It is tragedy "wrought to the uttermost''. Some say it is too depressing and pessimistic. Reddleman Thomasin story, on the other hand, has a happy end, and ll has been said that it weakens the tragic intensity of the main plot. However, we cannot agree with such views. By showing Thomasin and reddleman happy and contented at the end, the novelist has introduced a note of meliorism in the novel. In this way, he has shown that some limited happiness is possible even in this sorry life of ours, only, like Thomasin, we should have patience, prudence, and forbearance. Thus the happy end enables the novelist to present his view of life faithfully and truthfully. The double-ending is not a fault, but a great artistic merit.