The Return of the Native belongs period of Hardys maturity as an artist. With Tlie Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D'ubervilles and/ude the Obscure, it occupies a significant place among Hardy's novels. It has its own excellencies and shortcomings as a work of art.
1. The great merits of the novel are :
(i) The architectonic quality of the plot. Its plot has proportion, symmetry and unity : carefully planned plot of the novel is a proof of Hardy's artistic maturity.
(ii) The grand treatment of Nature. Hardy does not treat nature as a mere background to human drama, but as an independent identity —an over-character casting its influence on human beings.
(iii) The dramatic construction of its plot without any superfluity.
(iv) The artistic use of the devices of parallelism and contrast.
(v) There are a number of highly poetic scenes such as the one in which Wildeve and Diggory gamble in the light of the glow-worms.
(vi) Hardy's use of poetic prose in the opening chapter and in the description of Eustacia.
(vii) The poetic power displayed in raising the atmosphere and the characters to tragic heights, and in imparting tragic grandeur to them.
(viii) The picturesquencess and freshness of st'ch scenes as Eustacia on the Rainbarrow, or the bonfire on the 5th of November.
2. The novel has been critised for the following faults :
(i) Excessive introduction of "chance' which makes the plot artificial and unnatural.
(ii) The introduction of sensual characters like Eustacia and Wildeve.
(iii) Use of dialect.
(iv) Repetition of situation.
(v) Too much importance attached to nature.
(vi) The dark pessimistic note on which the novel ends.
In Defence of Hardy
3. However, these charges may be explained away as follows:
(i) "Chance' has a significant part to play in Hardy's view of life, and its frequent introduction in the novel instead of leading to artificiality, presents a picture of life in perfect agreement with his philosophy of life. Many events happen by Chance in our day to day life as well.
(ii) Judged from the Victorian standards of morality, such characters as Eustacia and Wildeve may be branded as sensual, but they are true to life. Moreover, Hardy does not extol their sensuality, but presents it as a tragic flaw of their characters. It brings about their ruin.
(iii) The use of dialect introduces realism. It enables Hardy to portray Wessex life realistically. It is an artistic merit.
(iv) What has been called repetition is just Hardy's artistic use of parallelism and contrasts. There are a number of love stories, and in they way the love-theme has been studied from different angels. Variety has been imparted in this way.
(v) The significance attached to Nature is in keeping with Hardy's view of life. He does not, by presenting Nature's vastness, represent the victory of the inanimate over the animate. Rather, the fusion of the natural and the human is one of the glories of the novel.
(vi) The pessimistic note of the novel is not something unexpected from a tragic artist like Hardy. The melioristic strain — marriage of Thomasin and Venn —added on request from the editor of the magazine in which the novel appeared serially, lessens the tragic gloom, but does not take away from the tragic intensity of the novel.