Chapter 3 serves the purpose of introducing some of the primary characters through the dialogue and viewpoint of some of the local townsfolk. Thomas Hardy is able to skillfully introduce the characters and their situations through playful dialogue, while refraining from lengthy passages of exposition.
As chapter 3 begins, the men with torches from the second chapter build a bonfire, drink and socialize. Hardy describes the bonfires as a link between past and present, continuing the theme of historical change.
The bonfire tradition seems to even predate Christianity and its value system; “Festival fires to Thor and Woden had followed on the same ground and duly had their day” (17). Moreover, it “indicates a spontaneous, Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say Let there be light” (17). Thus, Hardy continues the civilization vs nature theme, evoking an image of Prometheus bringing light against the darkness and cold of nature.
As the men, and eventually a few women converse, they gossip about the upcoming marriage of Thomasin (Tamsin) Yeobright to Damon Wildeve. They have gone to another village to marry. Wildeve is older than Tamsin, and he is a former engineer, but failed at the profession and is now an inn keeper. We also learn from the people conversing over the bonfire that Tamsin’s cousin Clym Yeobright will be returning (presumably the native referenced in the title). We also learn about Captain Vye and his granddaughter Eustacia, who live in a house on a nearby hill. The folk around the bonfire continue their merrymaking by dancing and singing until they are interrupted by the appearance of Tamsin’s Aunt, Mrs. Yeobright.
Hardy takes a moment to describe Mrs. Yeobright. She seems to be an intelligent, dignified woman, a widow and feels herself above the rest of the celebration goers. Mrs. Yeobright brings with her a new mood to the bonfire crowd. Mrs. Yeobright then leaves for her nieces new home. Another woman, Olly, accompanies her
Hardy, Thomas. The Return of the Native. New York: Bantam, 1981. Print.