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Universial Themes In “The Return Of The Native” And “Great Expectations” Essay, Research Paper

Universial Themes in “The Return of the Native” and “Great Expectations”

Classic novels usually share in the aspect of universal themes which

touch people through out the ages. All types of audiences can relate to and

understand these underlying ideas. Victorian novels such as Thomas Hardy’s The

Return of the Native and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations are examples of

literary classics that have universal themes. Hardy’s tale illustrates the role

of chance in his characters lives. Through the story we encounter events of pure

coincidence and their effects. Dickens, considered to be more of a reformer

(Literature Online), tries to portray a social theme in his novel. The basic

theme of Great Expectations is that good does not come from ones social standing

but rather comes from their inner value. These novels are considered classics

because of their timeless themes.

Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native displays a theme of chance. Book

First, chapter 8 contains a perfect example. Eustacia persuades young Johnny

Nunsuch into helping her feed a fire. She dismisses him and begins to walk home.

Before reaching home, he is frightened by the light coming from the heath and

returns to discover Wildeve meeting with Eustacia. By pure chance, Venn

discovers the boy and quizzes him.

?Then I came down here, and I was afeard, and I went back; but I didn’t like to

speak to her, because of the gentleman, and I came on here again? [Johnny


? A gentleman–ah! What did she say to him, my man?? [Diggory Venn]

?Told him she supposed he had not married the other woman because he liked his

old sweetheart best; and things like that? [Johnny Nunsuch]

[Book First, chapter 8, pp. 82]

This chance exchange reveals that Wildeve is meeting with Eustacia. Venn uses

this to his advance by announcing himself to Mrs. Yeobright as a suitor for

Thomasin. This backfires because Mrs. Yeobright tries to use the second suitor

to force Wildeve to marry Thomasin. These events all occur from the chance

meeting between Venn and Johnny Nunsuch. Another example of chance and

coincidence can be seen in the famous gambling scene of Book Third, chapter VII.

This is perhaps one of the most critically examined parts of the book.

? ?Very well,? said Wildeve, rising. Searching about with the lantern, he found

a large flat stone, which he placed between himself and Christian, and sat down

again. The lantern was open to give more light, and it’s rays directed upon the

stone. Christian put down a shilling, Wildeve another, and each threw. Christian

won. They played for two. Christian won again.? [Book Third, chapter 7, pp. 229]

This quote begins the drama of the scene. Mrs. Yeobright had entrusted Christian

to deliver a minor inheritance to Clym and Thomasin. He gets involved in a dice

game with Damon and unfortunately loses all hundred guineas. By chance, Diggory

Venn passes by and in the hope of protecting Thomasin, wins back all the money

from Wildeve. He mistakenly hands over all the winnings to Thomasin without

understanding that part of the money belongs to Clym. This chance occurrence led

to a tragic end. Although he was trying to do good, Venn succeeded to further

create conflict. Critics agree with this standpoint.

?The Return of the Native is concerned with the ‘general malaise in the life of

humanity. Man is a pawn in life’s lottery …. Man’s life avails him nothing.

Men are just incidental in creation. Man may protest against his fate, but it

makes no difference, he only a plaything, he cannot master his destiny.? [Henry


In these examples and critical quotes, we see the negative stance Hardy is

taking in the immoral theme of chance.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is also a classic novel due to its

universal theme of true good.

?Great Expectations is Charles Dickens’ “most compactly perfect book,” mainly

because of the universal themes that are fully realized throughout the novel.

Furthermore, as an explanation of why Great Expectations is Dicken’s finest work,

it becomes necessary study to study the thematic elements that are prevalent

within the storyline.? [George Bernard Shaw]

The theme is developed through a character Pirrip Philip, a poor orphaned boy

living with his sister and her husband, Joe. He is a father figure for the boy

and is a hard working blacksmith, loyal and good friend. While visiting his

family’s grave site, he is approached by an escaped convict who demands that Pip

bring him food and a metal file. He does so promptly but the convict is quickly

recaptured. After some time he is hired by an rich eccentric woman named Miss

Havisham to be her adopted daughters playmate. Jaggers, a lawyer, informs Pip

that someone has settled money for the boy and he has ?great expectations?.

? Now I return to this young fellow. And the communication I got to make is,

that he has Great Expectations? [Chapter 18, pp. 151]

For some time now Pip was disliking the ?uncommon? life and started to admire

the lifestyle of Miss Havisham and the upper class. To put it short, he was

becoming a snob. This event advanced the plot and theme. Under the agreement

made Pip was not supposed to know who his benefactor was although he believed it

to be Miss Havisham. One evening while living in England, a stranger appears to

visit Pip. It was the convict of his youth. Named Magwitch, he has been Pip’s

benefactor all along. This was his way of repaying his charity as a youth. The

events that follow with Magwitch teach Pip love and humility. His snobbish

quality is removed. After the convicts death, Pip becomes ill and is nursed back

to health by his true friend Joe. The money that he is handed changes his

personality and causes him to ignore the people that he has known fondly his

entire life but finally realizes that true goodness comes from a person rather

than their social class. This shows that wealth and position can be corrupting.

This theme is present today as it ever was during Dickens time.

From a personal standpoint, these novels have had an impressive

influence on my life and the way I think as it would for anybody of my age and

education. By absorbing the themes of true goodness and chance, I have

enlightened myself. I realize that money, power or property does not necessarily

make a person good but rather that depends on the individual. The tale of Pip

can serve as the perfect guide not to become a victim of false ideology.

Undoubtedly people of my age should come away with a better understanding of

life and our place in the world just as I have. It is quite appropriate for

people of our education level to be enriched in the world of classic literature.

The timeless nature of the stories is reason enough.

Regardless of the great amount of reading, I can truthfully say that I

enjoyed the experience. Classics hold something for all people so therefore I

would recommend it to others being on our grade level or not.

Work Cited

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations, New York: New York Scholastic Inc., 1957

Hardy, Thomas. The Return of the Native, New York: New York Nal Penguin Inc.,


Thompson, Frank H. Cliff Notes on Hardy’s The Return of the Native

Nebraska: Lincoln Cliff Notes Inc., 1966

http://www.literature.org Literature Online, Internet Site Resource providing

criticism on literary works.

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