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MonkeyNotes-Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
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Chapter 3

Summary

The group that has gathered on the heath has come to build the traditional bonfire for the November 5 celebration of Guy Fawkes Day. The characters around the bonfire include Timothy Fairway, Humphrey, Sam, Grandfather Cantle, Christian Cantle, Olly Dowden, and Susan Nunsuch. There is a great deal of good nature ribaldry, and Christian Cantle reveals his general timidity and nervousness about women, much to the amazement of his father. The bonfire watchers' discussion reveals much about the main characters. The marriage of Thomasin and Wildeve, which supposedly took place earlier in the day, is disclosed; at first Thomasin's aunt, Mrs. Yeobright, disapproved of the marriage, but later gave her consent to her niece's wedding. They also mention that Mrs.Yeobright's son, Clym, is soon returning home to the heath. The discussion then veers to Captain Vye and his granddaughter Eustacia.

After the fire dies out, Fairway whirls Susan Nunsuch around in an improvised dance, and the rest of the company joins in. The reddleman, who comes to inquire the way to Mrs. Yeobright's house, interrupts the dance. After he leaves, Mrs. Yeobright herself comes around and is told of the reddleman's inquiry. She and Olly Dowden walk away in the direction of The Quiet Woman inn that Wildeve owns.


Notes

Two factors are worth noticing in this chapter. One, the simple folk, the "living countryside," function here as a kind of chorus. Their conversation serves to illuminate the past, and the present, and foreshadow the immediate future of certain characters.

Secondly, the Heath dwellers are shown to be not only traditional, but also given to superstitious beliefs of every kind. Age is related to traditional events. When Christian is asked how old he is, he replies "Thirty-one last tatic-digging" (potato digging). The best instance of superstition is also visible in the character and actions of Christian. Fairway, a man the others respect, assures him solemnly that since there was no moon on the night Christian was born, he would be "no man": "Yes. No moon, no man. It's one of the truest sayings ever spit out. The boy never comes to anything that is born at new moon." Christian is also told that "single" sleepers are more often visited by ghosts.

Any stray noise makes Christian jittery, and when the reddleman is heard, Christian begins chanting a prayer "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John bless the bed that I lie on, four angels guard." The other characters, though superstitious, are not exactly like Christian; Hardy has made him to be a ridiculous figure totally driven by fears.

Even the bonfire lit on the Heath seems to reflect "jumbled Druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies," rather than any popular feeling regarding Guy Fawkes Day that they are celebrating. In many places, the celebration is no longer observed; but on Egdon Heath, traditions die slowly.

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