Throughout "The return of the native", Thomas Hardy is very successful in showing how the heath is untamable and becomes what each character wants it to be. The atmosphere is used to characterize the place and its characters. Some scenes are so descriptive that a very clear mental picture can be formed by the reader, causing a distinct sense of place. It seems that through his words, Hardy is submerging the readers into his story letting us take part only as an onlooker. It is at the beginning that the strongest mood, the heaviest atmosphere and the most obvious sense of place occurs.
The book opens with an in-depth description of the heath. This is a perfect example of Hardy's ability to clearly describe a scene in the heath. This heath, although seemingly only a location of the story, plays a very significant role. The role and symbolism of the heath are truly explored through some of Hardy's statements. "The heavens being spread with this pallid screen, the earth with the darkest vegetation, their meeting-line at the horizon was clearly marked". This is highlighting the vivid contrast between the ground and the sky, leaving the reader with an image of the wild expanse of vegetation. Hardy describes the nature of the heath with the words "It was at present a place perfectly accordant with man's nature - neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly: neither. unmeaning, nor tame; but like man slighted and enduring.". This is a description of the heath, which brings us to grips with the ambiguity of the image. He is also creating an atmosphere of mystery, of a silence that envelops the heath and its characters. Also Hardy creates a strange mood; he seems to be playing with immortality and an unchanging power when describing the scene. "The sea changed, the fields changed, the rivers, the villages, and the people changed, yet Egdon remained". .
Further on, Hardy introduces the heath people.