Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Clym Yeobright

Clym, the native who returns to his birthplace on Egdon Heath, is an instance of a precocious, highly regarded boy who, when a man, leaves his provincial background to make his way in the world. He then gives up worldly success for what he thinks of as a more important calling on his native ground. In short, Hardy's protagonist is a character who, though still admired locally, is bound to be misunderstood when he chooses to forgo conventional ideas of vocation and success.

His character is almost written in reverse. Clym was cast by his own community as an archetypal hero, and heroes tend to leave home and have adventures. They aren't supposed to return home to small-town life. Clym starts out as a modern man of the world and ends up doing a pale imitation of Jesus delivering sermons as a preacher. It might even be said that he anticipates a kind of martyr's role. Both the heath folk and his mother are doubtful of his plan to be a "schoolmaster to the poor and ignorant"; they view it as impractical as well as less desirable than his commercial career in Paris. Eustacia cannot fathom why a man who has lived in Paris, the center, to her, of all that is desirable, should choose to return to Egdon. But at the basis of Clym's desire to serve his native Egdon lies a general and idealistic view of his fellow human beings. He had a conviction that men seeked wisdom rather than affluence. And, as Hardy points out, "he was ready at once to be the first unit sacrificed."

At the end of the novel, his eyesight still subnormal, his mother and his wife dead, Clym still persists in the same view of mankind, will not complain of the injustice of his lot in life. Though his original plan is considerably reduced in scope, he mounts the summit of Rainbarrow in his role of "itinerant open-air preacher" with as much optimism, Hardy indicates, as he would have shown had his dream of a school been realised.

However admirable Clym's personality may be, certain sides of it are unattractive, but this is a tribute to Hardy's ability to create lifelike characters. Clym is given to self-pity, and he has in him a curious unwillingness to act. His delay in trying to establish contact with his mother after his marriage is repeated in his hesitating to ask Eustacia to come back to him. His inability to act enables Hardy to show him at the mercy of events or circumstances or chance, a demonstration of the theme of the novel. He is meant to be, in other words, a modern man: able to understand but unable to act decisively. As an individual, Clym is about as unsuited to be a husband as Eustacia is to be a wife. At one point, Eustacia describes him to Wildeve as a St. Paul and remarks that the qualities summed up in this allusion hardly make him a good companion. His "inner strenuousness" makes him hard to get along with, not merely for his wife, but for any other human being. Almost the only person in the novel with whom Clym is shown to be content is Humphrey, when the two of them cut furze together.

Clym's decision to return home effectively drives the entire plot of the novel. But for Clym himself, that decision literally causes his world to shrink; he's essentially swallowed up by the world he chose to return to. As a very myopic character, He literally and figuratively fails to fully see the world and especially the people around him, and this leads him to frequently procrastinate. Clym's failure to see clearly also translates itself into his murky status as the novel's hero. Clym isn't very clear on what he wants and, as a result, isn't very clear on who he is or who he wants to be.

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