The natural man in Thomas Hardy's short stories
Etheredge, Dorothy Elinor
Master of Arts
This thesis is a study of the concept of the natural man within the four collected volumes of Thomas Hardy's short stories, A Changed Nan and Other Tales, Life's Little Ironies, A Group of Noble Dames, and Wessex Tales. By definition, the natural man or woman within the short stories is one who is born and reared in a rural environment some distance from the complexities and ideals of a sophisticated society. Although his natural characters play important roles within the short stories, Hardy was not the first writer to represent the virtues of life separated from a sophisticated civilization. A resume of the concept of the natural man (primitivism) from antiquity to Hardy reveals that Hardy's simple characters generally resemble the primitives of all ages. Nature is considered as a guide for what is right, and man in an environment close to the soil is able to discern the truths of nature with ease. Among the primary virtues characteristic of natural men of all ages are self-sufficiency, endurance, loyalty, innate or unconscious wisdom, and benevolence. Throughout the history of primitivism, the turmoil of city life and the corruption of society have been contrasted with the tranquillity of the country and the virtues of simple people living in a secluded environment. It has also been characteristic for contact with society to result in loss of naturalness or happiness for primitive man. The natural characters of Hardy's short stories live in country hamlets or small inland or seacoast towns. Because of its simplicity, and seclusion, their native environment appears to influence the naturalness and spontaneity of their actions. A study of these natural men in their native homes reveals that some of these individuals in the stories appear to possess all of the major virtues (loyalty, unselfishness, endurance, unconscious wisdom) self-sufficiency, and kindness)) but each character in the short stories who is a natural man possesses one or more admirable traits. When the natural virtues and simple environment of Hardy's primitives within the short stories are contrasted with the complex setting and corruption of unnatural) sophisticated individuals, the nobility of the natural men is further magnified. A number of the stories employ a contrasting figure (sometimes society as a whole) to the natural man. As Hardy's simple characters come in contact with sophisticated society and its ideals, their naturalness is often sullied. However, some of Hardy's strong natural men pass through society unscathed; and there are a few individuals who appear to be natural men even though they are an integral part of a complex society. Sometimes society's ideals and society's enforced laws cause unhappiness for Hardy's natural men. Regardless of Hardy's purpose in representing the natural man within the stories, the simple characters of both his novels and short stories follow the traditional views concerning the goodness of life away from complex society, and these natural individuals are Hardy's most admirable portraits of mankind.