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Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Page history last edited by Natalie Nunez 13 years, 7 months ago


T e s s   o f   t h e   D ' U r b e r v i l l e s 


Thomas Hardy 


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A closer look at Hardy's heroine...


Tess Durbeyfield


     From the very beginning we get the sense that Tess puts the world on her shoulders. Because she does not allow the news that she is a decendent of the noble D'Ubervilles to go to her head as it does with the rest of the family, we see that she is the most respnsible, sensible, and levelheaded. In fact, she is the most intelligent of her family and among the townspeople. She talks in proper English, wonders about complex ideas that one would not expect a "simple farm girl" to ever think about, and comes to insightful conclusions. In addition to this intelligence Tess possesses a unique, indescribable quality of freshness, womanhood, and purity that exceeds physical beauty and attracts others to her. She is driven by a strong moral compass and often follows it even to her own demise, such as when she choses to tell Angel about her past instead of keeping it secret. Because of this intense moral conscience Tess can be very hard on herself, (which is ironic because she is truly the most compassionate, pure, "good" character in the novel). Tess is independent, and strong-willed, she resists the overwhelming advances of Alec over and over again and does not allow her misfortunes to crush her spirit. She always finds ways to take control of her situation, and never appears as the completely helpless damsel in distress. Tess shows this streak of independence and fortitude on countless occasions, such as when she leaves her home to begin a new life at the dairy farm, rejects organized religion and develops her own kind of spirituality, or baptizes her own baby. This unwillingness to let her misfortunes define her is what makes Tess into a heroine, someone to admire and identify with. That all being said, end of the novel comes as a shock to the reader. It seems very out of the character that Tess would give into Alec's advances and become his mistress, and even more out of character that she would end up killing him! However, the humanness of both giving up and snapping under years of built up pressures are things we can all relate to. Though her actions were extreme, readers understand why Tess did what she did, and only identify with her more. Therefore, the end of the book does not tarnish Tess, nor does it belittle her long story of fortitude and independence. 


 Major Themes




    Even though Tess’s purity is taken from her in the eyes of the society, she still remains pure in heart and soul throughout the novel, more than any other character. Angel’s perception of Tess completely changes when he learns that she was not a virgin before their marriage. He has put her on a pedestal, seeing her as a pure and virtuous woman. Once he learns the reality of it, he can’t handle it and leaves Tess.




Male Dominance

    Tess is always being controlled by the men in her life. Her father’s belief and ego from find out they are aristocratic blood, is the catalyst to her sufferings in the story. Tess ends up taking on a lot of the responsibility of the family.Tess is seduced and taken advantage of by Alec not only in the beginning of the story, but also when towards the end when Tess is vulnerable after being abandoned by Angel. Alec is what prevents Tess from a future with Angel. Angel treats Tess poorly when he learns of her past. In his eyes she no longer fits this pure picture he had of her in his head. As punishment to Tess, he leaves her to go to Brazil.




                Tess is trapped by her circumstances, ones that she did not bring upon herself, but was brought on by those around her.  She is trapped by the view of her in society after her return from the D'Urbervilles and her illegitimate child with Alec. Tess finally feels some sort of freedom for herself and Angel when she kills Alec. Tess was trapped throughout the novel from the consequences of Alec taking advantage of her multiple times.



Death and Rebirth

            After her encounter with Alex, Tess returns home and goes into seclusion. The loss of her virginity symbolizes the death of "the maiden", he pure self, in the eyes of society. After the death of her baby, Tess realizes that she does not have to live a life of misery and decides to make a fresh start for herself, symbolizing a rebirth. Angel sleepwalking and carrying Tess to the tomb. That Tess that he believed her to be has "died" in his mind. Tess physically dies at the end of the novel when she is executed for murdering Alec.



Love and Lust

    The novel shows the different ideas of love and what is percieved as love.  Both Alec and Angel believe they love Tess. Alec views Tess as something to obtain, because she resists him. He is merely lusting after Tess. Angel has put Tess on a pedestal, believing her to be a vision a purity and good, and this comes crashing down when he learns of her past. He does not love her uncondtionally, even though she is still the good hearted person he fell in love with, despite what she has been through. Angel however realizes his mistake and gets past his immaturity, to return to Tess and to enjoy what time they had left together.



Some memorable passages.... 


“She felt that she would do well to be useful again-to taste anew sweet independence at any price. The past was the past; whatever it has been, it was no more at hand. Whatever its consequences, time would close over them; they would all in a few years be as if they had never been, and she herself grassed down and forgotten.”

Tess did not wallow in her woes after her baby, Sorrow, died; she picked herself up and went on with her life. In this passage Tess says that,"time would close them over." Tess believed that her wounds would heal. This is the reason that we consider Tess a heroine, because uses her past as a "useful" tool to motivate her future. Ironically though, this tendency to always move on to the next thing could be Tess's downfall. In the end of the book Tess is living a risque and luxurious life with Alec, but she quickly murders him in favor of Angel.


“But Tess did not answer; she throbbingly resumed her walk, her eyes fixed on the ground. ‘Pooh-I don’t believe God said such things!’ she murmured contemptuously when her flush had died away.”

The interesting thing about Tess is that she does not think and react like the other country girls or milk maids in the story. Tess has her beliefs and she does not let other's opinions sway her. She does not want to believe in a God that would say, "Thy damnation, slumberth not"(2 Pet. ii.3.). However, Tess is a spiritual person which affect her action throughout the novel, such as she baptized her own child. 


" 'I won't have you speak like it, dear Tess! Distinction does not consist in the facile use of a contemptible set of conventions, but in being numbered among those who are true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely and of good report-as you are my Tess.' "

Angel chastises Tess for refusing to marry him. Angel is under the impression that Tess thinks she is not good enough for him because of her lowly class stature. He tells her one theme of the book that class does not define the quality of a person that you are.  




Images and Metaphors



Hardy's most prominent and reoccurring symbol throughout the novel is the image of the birds. Birds are universal symbol of freedom, something that the rebellious, independent Tess constantly strives for. Tess always encounters birds when she in a different situation or specific mood. The birds also directly relate to her relationships with Alec and Angel. The birds Tess takes care of while she is being seduced by Alec are caged, made pets, taught to sing songs they wouldn't sing in their natural state. Tess feels entrapped the same way and forces to take part in the game Alec is playing with her, and in the scheme her parents have pressured her into participating in. However, when Tess first falls in love with Angel, she sees beautiful free herons flying through the sky, mirroring the freedom she feels in this new, happy love. 




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In Tess's eyes the baby Sorrow was a punishment for the sin of allowing Alec to take her virginity before marriage. However, the baby is symbol of innocence. Tess was innocent when she was raped, for her mother told her nothing of these terrible and sorrowful experiences that can happen to young girls.Tess nurses and cares for her infant tenderly. When the baby dies in his infancy, this represents the loss of Tess's innoence. The action and affect of this situation make Tess a woman.





 Alec vs. Tess
According the actual wealth, Tess is lower class and Alec is upper, but Tess, who is a true D'Urberville, is in reality more noble that Alec, whose family bought their way to nobilty and stole the D'Uberville name. Also, when society would dictate the upper class equates goodness and lower class immorality and sin, Tess and Alec's relationship turns that theory upside-down because she is more moral that he, and has a stronger will, and purer intentions. Hardy uses these ironies about class over and over again in the novel in an attempt to show that it is ridiculous to use class as an indicator of personality, morality, or intelligence. 


 Tess's past

Tess's past is the source of several ironies in the novel. First, it is ironic that the knowledge of Tess's past is what destroyes Angels and Tess's relationship because without it, Angel would not have been attracted to Tess or fallen in love with her. Tess's past brought them together. It made her into the compassionate, unique woman Angel falls in love with,  and without it she would still be the niave girl he saw at the May dance and would have never even needed to leave her home to work at the dairy where she meets Angel again. Yet it is also the one thing that tears them apart because Angel feels his vision of Tess as the essence of womanhood is destroyed by the knowledge of her past. (This is also ironic becasue if Angel would only take a step back from it all he would see that Tess actually is as good and pure as he believes her to be and that her past does not change that!)




Just for fun.... 








Tess and Angel met at a May dance - hear an English country dance similar to the one that might have played the first moments they saw each other!!!!






Comments (2)

Mr. Mullen said

at 9:12 pm on Apr 5, 2009

Good page. I think Natalie is still editing it as I write this. I will look at it again later this week.

Natalie Nunez said

at 3:38 pm on Apr 6, 2009

Haha! I was!

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