Role of Fate in Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy wrote this novel in the end of the last decade of the nineteenth century. This novel is remarkable like all the other Hardy’s novels for the tragic vision it indicates; there is a story which ends in a tragic manner. In so far as Hardy is concerned, he writes tragedy of fate which has a major role to play. This novel is almost like the Greek tragedy in the classical Greek tragedy in the sense that they wrote play in a way where Aristotle wrote Greek tragedy and other things. He was dealing particularly with plays.

But the world view was essentially disastrous in tragedy mainly because in those Greek tragedies, the tragedy arose out of the dictates of fate. So, fate had decreed that it would be like this. And, because it was decreed that it would be like this, it happened accordingly. So, the tragedy in Greece according to the classical western tradition owes its existence to the role of fate that there is a tragic end is a result of the fact that fate had decreed like this. So, if we take for example the tragedies of Sophocles who is one of most classical writers; he wrote very popular tragedies, like Oedipus Rex.

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It is so popular because Freud has analyzed Oedipus Rex from the point of view of Oedipus’ Complex. This tragic play is a story of a child who is born like any other child and at the time of birth itself it is forecast from the skies that he will slay his father and marry the mother. Oedipus commits the sin of patricide and marries his own mother, an act which is the most despicable sin man could ever commit. So, it destined in this way. The oracle predicts that this case is going to happen with this child.

Fore this reason the king, the father of the child throws the child away into the jungle. But the infant Oedipus was saved by a shepherd. Oedipus returns after some time and again by some chance the kingdom of the empire is given to the same child, Oedipus. He takes up the kingdom from his father and also marries the Queen. All this revealed later on with the help of the shepherd who has taken the thrown up child and taken care of him. The shepherd comes and testifies that it is the same child. Thus, the story of Oedipus is the story of fate or destiny.

Destiny has decreed that it will be like that. Destiny said that Oedipus will kill the King and marry the queen. Accordingly that destiny proves to be true. So, Oedipus Rex is just one of the stories in the Greek traditions which more or less share the same pattern with all other Greek stories. That pattern is some kind of an oracle predicting some catastrophe to happen for the people at large, or for an individual. And, whatever has been predicted happens to be true in spite of human efforts of avoiding it.

So, Oedipus Rex in this sense is the story of a king who threw his child because it was predicted that he would kill his own father and marry his own mother. But despite the efforts of the king to avoid the destiny, the destiny proved to be true. On this basis, this how we have a framework of tragedy. The classical Greek tragedy was essentially based on fate. It was tragical because all it happened to be what it was because it was decreed to be what happened. So, we find that fate and destiny have a major role to play in the classical tragedy of Greece.

However, later on when Shakespeare wrote his tragedies, he wrote his tragedies in a different manner. Shakespearean tragedy is different from the classical Greek tragedy in so far as the role of fate is concerned simply because in his tragedy the role of fate has a very marginal dimension. Chance and fate has a role in Romeo and Juliet even though it should be classified as a dark play and not exactly as a tragedy. But the death of Romeo and Juliet is a consequence of chance that Juliet takes the medicine and pretends to die and Romeo thinks that she is dead and kills himself.

And because Romeo has killed himself, Juliet died. So, in all this, there is an element of chance. But apart from this, in no other Shakespearean play even in Romeo and Juliet the essential cause of tragedy is love; love occurs between Romeo and Juliet who are representatives of the two warring families who live as neighbours but do not go well with each; therefore they keep quarreling. So, the essential cause of the feud and the tragedy is different. But if we leave that apart then we find that the rest of the play has a different cause altogether.

If we take any other story, we will find that story deals with the character of the protagonist which plays a major role in the tragedy; it is not chance or fate that plays the major role; it is the character. So, in Shakespeare the character is destiny. Again rather than destiny shaping the future of the human beings; it is the character which shapes destiny. So, if we take any play of that matter, even a play like Antony and Cleopatra where we find that Cleopatra is an Egyptian queen, Antony is a Greek general. So, this Greek general takes part of the kingdom which was conquered by Alexander.

Antony falls in love with the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. And Cleopatra on the other hand falls in love with Antony. So, they have a passionate love for each other. This love is neither liked by the Egyptians nor by the Greeks; therefore the Greeks invade on the Egyptian Queen, and during the course of the war we find Antony goes towards Cleopatra. So, he deserts his people; he wants to join Cleopatra although she is dying and that the Greeks have surrounded her to kill her. But he decided to join her. And ultimately both of them lose their lives.

Thus, in the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, whatever happens to Antony and Cleopatra is not because of fate; it is because Antony chooses to be like that. Antony makes a conscious choice that he is going to live with Cleopatra whatever be the consequences. It is not so much a consequence of destiny; it is a consequence of human choice. He is choosing this kind of a death. Shakespeare has written four tragedies: the tragedies of Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and Othello which are supposed to be the four great Shakespearean tragedies.

In all of these, we find that it is not fate which plays a major role; it is the character’s destiny. In the case of Macbeth for instance, Macbeth decides that he is going to be the king of England. To achieve this goal he invites Duncan, the present king to his residence for a dinner. And in the course of the dinner murders the king and takes upon himself the kingdom of England. After he becomes a king, Macbeth as well as Lady Macbeth suffers from a sense of guilt. So, Lady Macbeth all the while washes her hands off Duncan’s blood.

But she discovers that whatever water she throws on her hands, still they are dirty by the blood of Duncan; her hands do not get clean. Accordingly she cannot get rid of the sense of guilt. And whatever happens to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is just a consequence of their ambition. The tragedy of Othello on the other hand is a tragedy of Othello’s suspicion. Othello has a suspicious mind. Although he has a beautiful wife, he does not trust her. There is an assistant called Iago who does not like him and puts the seeds of suspicion suggesting that his wife Desdemona is unfaithful to him.

Though Desdemona is faithful to Othello, yet he believes Iago, and on a mere suspicion kills Desdemona. And then he realizes that whatever he suspected proves to be wrong, so he killed himself. So, the tragedy of Othello is a tragedy of suspicion. Suspicion is again part of Othello’s character. It is not destiny that kills Othello but his suspicion. And because there was a fault within him, he meets his tragedy. Or, we can take for instance the story of King Lear, Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters asking the them to tell him how much they love him.

So, he starts with his eldest daughter Regan: he asks her how much she loves him. Regan tells him that she loves him more than the skies can accommodate, more than the moon, earth, stars, etc. and he believes. Then he asks the second daughter Goneril the same question, and she tells him in the same fashion she loves him more than the earth can contain, and that her love for him is unbounded. Then he asks his third daughter Cordelia how much she loves him, and what she has to say to her father about her feelings toward him. And Cordelia says she has nothing to say.

He tells her that if she insists on saying that, she will get nothing because nothing comes out of nothing, that she will not get her share of the empire. She says it does not matter because she has nothing to say. So, on the one hand we have daughters who keep on telling lies and Lear believes the lies. And on the other hand, we have a daughter who is unable to express her love and emotion towards her father. Here Lear commits the mistake of thinking that language or words have a truth value whereas language really speaking does not have any truth value; we can use language to tell lies.

So, really speaking there is no correlation between language and truth. But Lear commits the mistake that whatever you say is true. And at the end of the play, he realizes that language does not have a truth value. The tragedy of Hamlet is very complex. In a way it is related to Oedipus Complex that Hamlet has a father who is murdered and the uncle murders his father and marries his own mother. And Hamlet suffers from some kind of abnormal mind. He does not know what to do. There are a lot of queries why Hamlet behaves in the manner he does, whether Hamlet is really mad or pretending madness.

But the crack of the problem is that Hamlet meets a creed according to his character not according to destiny. So, whatever happens to all these people, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear or Antony is a consequence of their character; there is a peculiar feature of their character which compels them to face the tragedy. So the tragedy is consequence of the classical Greek calls face culpa. It is a sequence of some kind of a human trait in them which take them to an extreme that lead to tragedy. Face culpa can be translated to English as “Tragic Flaw”.

Othello is a naval general, he would have been a successful general, and in fact he is. But he meets his tragedy because he is suspicious. Macbeth would have been happy, had not been for ambition. Lear would have been happy had not been for the belief that language has a truth value; he fails to see the distinction that people may see when someone says something and does another. He fails to see the gap between the precept and the practice. So, that was his tragic flaw. Now, we come to Thomas Hardy. He also writes tragedies though he writes novels; he did not write plays but the vision is tragic.

Hardy’s tragedies are similar to classical Greek tragedies. He does not show law as such. He is not interested in indicating any faults in the character of the person concerned, the protagonist or whoever it may be. He shows the origin of the tragedy in fate, or destiny. In most of the occasions, Hardy’s characters meet their fate because it destined to be like that. There is an element of chance or fate. Chance or fate plays a very important role, and there is also a tragedy because of the chance. So, the tragedy in the case of Hardy is the consequence of chance element.

It is more related to create destiny or chance other than the character. So, Hardy’s vision is similar to the classical Greek tragedy; he is creating a story which is similar to classical Greek tragedy. Thus, he is more oriented towards the destiny of a man or the fate of man rather than the character. Although there are certain features of the character that he will highlight, he would rather think that the tragedy that the human beings have to face is a consequence of their fate or destiny simply because it is destined to be like that.

This means that there is destiny overruling and shaping human life. Most of the stories that he creates are tragic. The novel under discussion is also a tragedy. Hardy has been able to create characters with a romantic inclination. He roots the characters according to the part he lived in. He lived in part of England which is known as Wessex. There is an atmosphere of Wessex in the novels. All the while He was able to relate the characters to this environment. Therefore, he is able to establish a relationship with the environment, atmosphere, society, rural form and with the people at large.

At the same time he looks at the whole story from the point of view destiny. So, the story of Tess of the D’Urbervilles is similar to that. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a working girl who is happy and young had not been for unfortunate sudden incident in her life. The incident is that when she is walking with one of her near relations from one village to another to her home she is seduced by that man. And in the course of seduction she is too young to resist. Hardy does not look at it as her fault. But we cannot really say that it is not her fault either.

But, whatever way he looked at it, Hardy looks at it as a work of destiny that Tess is seduced by the person who is accompanying her. And in the course of her seduction she has to suffer: she has the stigma with her; she has to leave her home, and she is forced to work in a distant village which is slightly away from her home. Then, somehow she marries a man to whom she confesses that she has been seduced like that. And as a result of her confession, her husband deserts her. So, there is also a sense of guilt accompanying the seduction due to which she reveals all those things to her husband.

And as a result of this, she is deserted. And ultimately she ends her life by killing the man who seduced her. In this way, we see that she meets her tragedy but the tragedy according to Thomas Hardy is a result of destiny: that it is destined to be like that. She cannot end her life in any other way; she cannot do anything else. If we come to analyze it, we will see that it is more or less similar to the Greek tragedy. Hardy is not interested in portraying any tragic flaw in her; he rather looks at the life in her as a tragedy that has some tragic consequences.

That is why he presents the story from a different perspective altogether. We need to understand Thomas Hardy’s tragic vision that he has produced a certain number of works which show the tragedy, and a particular world view that is essentially tragic in nature. So, Hardy’s world view would have to be understood if we are to understand the works of Hardy particularly Tess of the D’Urbervilles. This novel is peculiar work of Hardy because Tess is a character which leaves her prints on our minds that she is an innocent young girl. He describes her as a maiden.

And from then onward she had declined in her fortune. He starts knitting a series of unfortunate happenings in her life as a consequence of the loss of maidenhood. This is how we see that the story is developing. The conventional view of the novel is that we have a pure innocent beautiful girl who is seduced by an irresponsible relative. There is an emphasis on purity and chastity, or more specifically virginity. Hardly very clearly emphasizes this fact. Even the first chapter entitled “The Maiden” and the second chapters “Maiden No More” emphasize this fact.

Even in the titles there is an explicit emphasis on maidenhood, and the qualities of maidenhood are underlined all along. Thus, we have to take into account the fact that Hardy is writing in the nineteenth century, and the ethos of that time also need to be taken into account. Therefore here we have an emphasis on virginity in the male- dominated society while the women were not supposed to have the free will. So, most of the action was initiative by men. Therefore, these headlines “The Maiden”, “Maiden No More” is also indicative of the attitude of the society which expects the women to be chaste.

It does not necessarily expect the men to be chaste; chastity by its very nature is applied to women. The story revolves around a girl who is yet to learn the vice of womanhood. She is yet to grow into a woman. But before she could grow into womanhood she is deprived of her maidenhood. And therefore we have the title “Maiden No More”. So, as a matter of fact both the title indicate an over emphasis on chastity and implicit acceptance of the value of chastity; and also an implicit acceptance of condemnation of loss of maidenhood which follow.

The main theme is male- centered society because in the context of the contemporary Europe or even Uk this would appear to be irrelevant; the concept of chastity is not considered to be as important as it was in those days for those days were merely the days of acceptance of this notion. Nowadays those notions are not respected to the same extent as they were respected in those days for various reasons. But for whatever reasons, now there is a shift in the stance; now we have to take into account that this was Victorian England where chastity was very important. And this notion of chastity is of double standard.

Chastity implies that women should be chaste and faithful. There is an implicit double standard which was not talked about in those days because it was taken for granted that men are men and women are women; men are free to act whatever they can, but not so with women. This double standard still exists up today to a great extent. First, this double standard expects chastity on the part of women, and secondly shifts blame on the girl; it would go wrong with a girl, but would not go wrong with a man. Whereas society should hold both persons equally responsible for any collaborated immoral action.

But the society due to its double standards looks down upon the woman and expects her to follow higher standards of morality, and vice versa did not expect the men to follow. Thus, there is a social and cultural ethos which makes Tess a victim. This cultural and social ethos blames women for whatever goes wrong. And in addition to that, we also have the overall incident which is partly a matter of coincidence that she is travelling with a near relation of hers. And in the course of this journey, there are incidents when they are close, and finally he is able to seduce her.

There, we find that Tess is tempted to follow whatever the man asks her to do. Nevertheless, we find that Tess is blamed of whatever happens. But in a way Tess is also supposed to be responsible for whatever the man does. She also carries the sense of guilt with her although she is not thoroughly responsible of whatever the man has done to her. Therefore she has to leave the place. So, we find the social as well as the cultural atmosphere is such that she is condemned. Hardy appears to be sympathizing with the women. Tess wanted to keep the child but she could not because the society would not allow her to do that.

Then she has to disappear, to go somewhere and hide herself. Thus we find that Tess is forced to live a life of anonymity and a life of exile. So the sequence of act of seduction is fatal for her. So the story of Tess is the story of common English girl in the Victorian society who could be victimized in the same fashion because the society was male- dominated and man- centered. And the girls particularly do not have any production; if at all they have anything, it was blame. So, Tess accepts the blame and its consequences.

The story of Tess arises of this context where the girl had no choice; she is compelled into such an act maybe against her wishes. Therefore, her independent desires have no role to blame; she does not appear to have a personality of her own and is only being treated as instrumental in these things. As a result in the second part of the novel, she takes a proactive role and the only thing she can do is to resort to violence towards the person who is responsible of whatever has happened to her. So, Tess of the D’Urbervilles is an innocent girl who is misled into an exceptional sexual act by a man and this results in condemnation.

Thus, she is regarded as a victim. For this reason, Hardy is talking about the role of fate in this novel that Tess is a victim of fateful circumstances; she is forced to suffer for the faults she has not committed. All she has done is bloomed and is being maltreated because she has acted like an ordinary girl. As a matter of fact, she has absolutely no choice to act otherwise; she is the victim of circumstances. So, on the one hand Hardy wants the readers to sympathize with Tess, and on the other hand wants to narrate the unfortunate circumstances he had to face accordingly. This is why Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a tragedy of circumstances, social and cultural ethos, and a tragedy of man- woman relationship. It is a tragedy because it a story of a girl who is faithful to herself, also she wants to be faithful to her husband. So, later on when she marries she reveals what happened to her to her man which is again a very crucial point that on the one hand we have a man acting on his won mostly against her own wish and being responsible for certain things.

And on the other hand, we have the innocent girl believing in faithfulness and so on and revealing all that happened to her on the first night to her husband. And the husband, on the other hand acts in a cruel manner and deserts her. Again, it is not his fault either; the husband is acting only as an agent of cultural and social ethos which dictates that any man who finds himself in such circumstances would do the same thing. So, he is left with no choice because in the male- dominated society he has male pride; so he must take care of the male pride, and therefore he must act like a man.

And he does act like that. Again, as a result poor Tess suffers. So, Tess not only pays the price of getting seduced, she also partly pays the price for being innocent and forthcoming as she reveals those things to the husband. Although she could have kept it a secret and would have no blame, instead she chooses to tell it to him. This means also that her innocence also becomes a kind of entrapment for her that left her with no option, but to go and take her revenge. There is only one possibility left for her which is of death because for her life is not possible; only she must die.

This indicates one thing that the option of life is closed. She does not have the ability to exercise her options; it is the fate that exercises all them. It is the story of fate and destiny overruling the destiny of man. This means that the man is not shaping his destiny but rather he is the victim of destiny. Here, Tess is the victim of circumstances which include the social cultural ethos, in other words the male- dominated society and the concept of charity generated by the community.

All these things play a major role in the overall development and now she cannot go beyond this otherwise she falls down and dies; she comes back because the road backward is closed for her. So, she can move neither way; she cannot move forward neither can she move backward. We find that she is in a state of bewilderment; she is rather immovable. In other words she is a victim. This means that this girl renders incapacitated like that. Finally she decides to act in a wild way.

When she is left with no other alternative she resorts to violence: she goes and kills the man who seduced her because he is responsible for whatever happens to her, and then meets her own fate. So, the destiny is the only option she has; she must take recourse to violence because violence is the only remedy for her, while all the other avenues of civilized behaviour are closed for her. She cannot react in a civilized manner since the civilized society would not allow her to be part of it. So, violence is the expression of self will; it is a consequence of self suppression: suppression of her personality, anger, and suffering.

She did not find any one who would sympathize and share with her. So, in a way, this poor girl is isolated in the society; she is absolutely all alone, and must face the consequences of her actions all on her own for she has no acceptance in the society. Therefore, she takes recourse to violence. This violence is an expression of self will on the part of Tess which leads her to calamity. If the society ensures justice, then such violence would not happen. Absence of sympathetic perspective and justice results in violence and disorder. So, the final outcome is both violent and tragic.

All the while, Hardy is trying to create sympathies for Tess, and is also trying to project her as a victim of circumstances, a victim of the overall social as well as cultural ethos. He is also trying to project her as a human being who is attempting to get rid of the cliches of the evil influences on her. But, unfortunately she can not. In this novel Hardy is trying to create a tragic work out of Tess’s story and raises a number of questions: questions like what is chastity, the meaning of chastity, what is being chaste and what is being unchaste.

He is trying to question the very foundation of the above mentioned issues. He is trying to pose questions like: is it true that once unchaste is always unchaste for lifetime, or once a sinner is always a sinner; is it true to have such kind of an approach where the sinner is condemned for a lifetime: a sinner commits an act of sin once but condemned for a lifetime. So, really speaking he is trying to have a Christian look in a Christian society that we have a society which believes in Jesus and Jesus asks people to love each other, and to forget and forgive.

Then, when there is a woman who commits a sin people wanted to kill her. He told them: you throw stones on her but the first stone will be thrown by a person who has not even committed a sin in his lifetime. And obviously there was no one who could come forth and I have never thought of committing a sin in my lifetime. So, instead of taking abroad perspective, the society takes a very narrow view of things which responsible the kind of fate that Tess has to endure because the fate has decreed it to be like that.

It is destined that she must suffer because it has been decreed that she is to suffer like that. Therefore, there is no Felix Culpa- tragic flaw- in Tess’s character; she is a pure girl, her purity is incarnated; she is pure because she is chaste. In spite of whatever happens to her, yet she is chaste; it is those people who need to be blamed; she is chaste and pure. Therefore, Hardy would expect human beings to have sympathy for her rather than condemning her. In a way he tried to create a story of a girl who is a victim of circumstances, social and cultural ethos.

As a result of that kind of ethos, we see that Tess meets her tragedy. So, the story of the Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a story of a young innocent girl who somehow is a victim of circumstances and seduced by a near relation by taking an advantage of her position when he has accompanied her all alone, and then she must suffer the consequences of the action taken by her companion. Thus, she becomes an absolute victim in that sense, and therefore this is a tragic story of a different order where fate or destiny plays a very important role in the overall scheme of things.

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Role of Fate in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. (2017, Feb 28). Retrieved from