Thomas Hardy's characters in The Return of the Native live in a world governed by a harsh and indifferent ironic God. Hardy sees the reigning power of the universe as being essentially unjust and morally blind. Instead of rewarding the good and punishing the evil, this entity presides over a universe in which suffering abounds in the form of a perverse irony. In Hardy's fiction and poetry, the indisputable henchmen of the force of the ironic deity against man's felicity are Chance and Coincidence. Hardy's characters live in a world governed by these twin powers, whose influence all too often is for evil, not for good.
Throughout The Return of the Native bad things happen to good people. Eustacia, the tragic heroine, is stifled by her environment in the heath and marries Clym Yeobright as an escape, despite his mother's disapproval. Her former lover, Damon Wildeve, spitefully marries Clym's cousin Thomasin in revenge for Eustacia's rejections of his charms. None of these characters is evil, but much misfortune befalls them before the book concludes. There seems to be no justice for the good or mercy for the mistaken. The critic Albert Elliot describes Hardy as having no desire to explain experience; he wishes only to present it. Although Hardy is often considered a pessimist as a result of his negative view about the possibility for hopefulness in life, he believed that he was merely treating matters of life just as they were. In attempting to represent reality as he saw it, he wrote novels whose plots were heavily influenced by factors of chance and change, often leading to a negative conclusion. Hardy did not enjoy witnessing the suffering in the world around him, and felt sympathy for almost all of his characters; the 'villain' has almost no place in his works because to him all of humanity is guided by an outside agency and so have little responsibility for the painful outcomes that occur. There is a tight linking of incidents toward doom and, although The Return of the Native concludes with the happier Sixth Book, the overall tone of the text is an ironic and tragic one. In The Return of the Native, Hardy proves a dismal view of life in which coincidence and accident conspire to produce the worst of circumstance due to the indifference of the Will to issues of equity and justice.
Most events in the novel are guided by chance and co-incidence to the worst possible outcome-death, and no reconciliation. If Mrs. Yeobright were not as elderly--if Clym had not fallen into such a deep sleep-if Wildeve had not come to the house--then the tragedy could have been avoided. However, all of these events did occur, proving to the reader that human potentialities for happiness, satisfactions, and good are seldom fully exercised by the universe's guiding force. The shocking discrepancy between what happens and what should happen if Right prevailed in the world is brutally prevailed in Hardy's text. When Clym discovers the part Eustacia played in his mother's demise, the two have a horrific fight and she eventually decides to fly to Paris, where she has always hoped to live, with her old lover Damon Wildeve. They will each abandon their spouses and live together. Their flight, however, is interrupted by a horrific storm and Eustacia plunges into the weir, whether by suicide or accident. Damon and Clym leap into the water to save her, but both Damon and Eustacia perish
The Will is blind and distributes good or bad without regard to merit in Hardy's novels. Eustacia and Wildeve, Clym and Thomasin are all good people without evil intent. It is through misunderstanding and unfortunate coincidence that events drive Eustacia to her death and Wildeve to follow her. Clym's promising life has completely changed direction at the conclusion of the text, and he is now a roaming preacher on the heath. Of the principle characters in the book, only Diggory Venn and Thomasin find happiness. But for incredible coincidence, events could have unfolded in a completely different manner. Hardy would insist that his vision is true to life because the higher power does indeed influence humanity's life for the worse, using its agents of chance, change and coincidence. Unlike many other novels, The Return of the Native shows the workings of higher deity but does not offer the assurance of a continuing restored stability or an explanation of why things are as they are. Other Victorian authors often preferred to end their novels with a happy coincidence, restoring right to the world and humanity's faith in providential justice. Hardy did not see that justice in the world around him, and so it is absent in this text. The ironic contradiction between what is and what ought to be reverberates The Return of the Native, marbling the characters' lives with 'if only's'. Various instruments of fate influence his characters' lives as he believed influenced all of humanity's, and this tragic novel lends great insight into Hardy's philosophy of the workings of our own world.