Relationships Between Men and Women in Tess of the D’Urbervilles Analysis

In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Hardy’s overall presentation of Tess’s relationships with men are portrayed as complex and difficult, often victim to many extraneous factors such as social class, religion, society and fate. An important emphasis on male domination is also evident throughout the novel, which demonstrates the way in which women were considered to be the possessions of their male spouses at that time in the Victorian era. It could be argued that Hardy presents various aspects of Tess’s life with an almost inherent fate of failure, her romantic relationships suffering this in particular.

Tess’s first romantic experience is demonstrated by Hardy as the typical situation of a woman’s purity which struggles in the face of temptation. Hardy makes sure that Alec’s intentions are clear from the moment he is introduced in the novel – he is described to have a “well-groomed black mustache”, which implies that he is considerably older than Tess. His complexion is said to be “swarthy”, much unlike Tess’s who is pale and pure. All these physical features immediately give the impression that these two people are completely incompatible, and Alec’s subsequent behaviour confirms all of these suspicions.

Academic anxiety?
Get original paper in 3 hours and nail the task
Get your paper price

124 experts online

Hardy makes it evident as the first phase progresses that Alec is controlling – he has such desire to posses power over Tess, almost to the point of obsession. Despite his insistence, Tess makes herself clear when she says that she “was angered by his kissing her”, and that she was “sometimes offended by his love-making”, trying her hardest to suppress his advances. However, the latter quote is somewhat misleading, as it says that she is only “sometimes” offended, which makes the reader question whether or not there is an element of Tess which actually may have feelings towards Alec, or if she is leading him on.

When Hardy describes the reason behind Alecs initial attraction to Tess, and says that it was due to “an attribute which amounted to a disadvantage just now; and it was this that caused Alec D’Urberville’s eyes to rivet themselves upon her,” we understand that Tess’s age is unclear to Alec, and that she seems more of a woman than a girl. We can also gather from this how unromantic and shallow-minded Alec is, as he is looking at her body before her face or personality. If this was a common occurrence in Victorian times, that could be an explanation as to why so many people found themselves in unhappy relationships.

Alec deliberately puts Tess under the impression that they are cousins in order to get closer to her. He feeds her strawberries in a suggestive manner, which further signifies the way he lusts after her, and does not love her. He also says at first that he sees her as a “challenge” rather than a woman – it is almost like he is just playing games, and once he has beaten the ‘challenge’, then he will be finished with her, as it is clear that Alec has no intention to marry.

The ways in which Alec tries to impress Tess are very superficial – he buys gifts for her family to assert his economic and social power over her, and to inhibit her leaving or make her feel guilty if she were to try to. He also tries to seduce her by taking her on a reckless cart-ride, making the cart go faster so that she will hold onto him tighter for security. This demonstrates also how Alec has the power here, Tess has no choice but to hold on to him, and this satisfies Alec even though he knows it is against her will and he has not earned it.

Even though Tess is screaming, “I don’t like ‘ee at all! I hate and detest you”, it only compels Alec to continue, because he wants to have all the power over her, even if it leaves her feeling distressed. Tess’s relationship with Alec becomes the perfect example of male’s dominance over women in the 19th century. Alec, however, will never truly love Tess, as he feels lust for her physical being rather than her inner self. Tess and Angel’s relationship completely contrasts to Tess and Alec’s.

On the surface, it is represented by Hardy as being the idyllic relationship, as the feelings are mutual, and attraction isn’t just physical – they appear to be the perfect meeting together of feelings and minds. It is said that Angel was “looking for someone with depth” and that he first notices her when she talked about how watching the stars can induce an out-of-body experience, showing that Angel’s initial attraction to her is due to her depth, unlike Alec’s, which was due to her physical attributes. However, Alec and Angel have persistence in common.

The difference is that they use their power in very different ways. Alec is built up with frustration, which comes to the surface when he does not get his own way with Tess, but Angel is built up with passion, and will persist on Tess marrying him until she caves in. So in this aspect, it could be argued that both men have been inconsiderate towards Tess’s moral values and views, using their power and persistence to change her as a person. Hardy describes Angel as being “to her sublime trustfulness he was all that goodness could be.

She thought every line in the contour of his person the perfection of masculine beauty, his soul the soul of a saint, his intellect that of a seer,” which at first glance seems to be describing his angelic qualities, but if we delve deeper into the quote we see the parts of “to her sublime trustfulness” and “she thought”, which gives quite a different impression of Angel’s true self. After Tess’s previously unfortunate experience, any man she now meets is going to appear as good as a God to her, and this causes her expectations of Angel to be too high.

At first, it is said that she sees him as an “intelligence” (pg. 126) rather than as a man, suggesting that she thinks so lowly of herself that she overestimates his superiority over her. They jump into a relationship and get engaged without knowing eachother’s pasts to escape the reality that they have completely misconceived eachother. Tess and Angel love eachother as higher beings – and both are disappointed when they find that the other has human flaws just like anybody else.

When talking about their sinful experiences, it is said that Angel “didn’t come out the worse for it”, but as we know, Tess’s life has been completely traumatized by hers, even by Angel himself, which is slightly ironic as her life will continue to be affected throughout the novel by this one experience, whereas Angel will not suffer from his. Angel at this point in the novel is portrayed as extremely hypocritical, as he puts his moral Victorian religious values (which he is unable to follow himself) before his love for Tess.

In conclusion, I think that Hardy has portrayed the relationships between men and women in Tess of the d’Urbervilles as suffering from lack of communication, naivety and illusions, and because of this, they are almost inevitably doomed to fail. After Tess’s rape, her destiny is almost pre-determined, as she is no longer a pure woman and any higher class of man will put his Victorian religious values before his love for her. Tess was naive and over-trusting towards Angel to think that he would forgive her for her sins, and in Tess’s case, any relationship which hopes to survive now must be built on lies.

This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

Need a custom essay sample written specially to meet your requirements?

Choose skilled expert on your subject and get original paper with free plagiarism report

Order custom paper Without paying upfront

Relationships Between Men and Women in Tess of the D’Urbervilles Analysis. (2016, Dec 18). Retrieved from