In Hardy’s novel, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, readers are able to immerse themselves in the life of Tess, a character who lacks independence and eventually faces a tragic end. The narrative highlights the significance of seizing control over one’s own future and being assertive. Furthermore, Hardy scrutinizes the hypocrisy and judgmental tendencies present within Tess’ society, particularly in relation to organized religion. He also explores the genuineness of “conversion” and raises doubts about its sincerity. Through this literary work, readers are transported to an alternate reality where they gain understanding into the various factors and experiences that shape an individual’s existence.
The study of Tess’ tragic life allows readers to understand the importance of free will and taking charge. Although Tess is often seen as a victim of her malevolent society, her selflessness, pride, and strong sense of duty ultimately contribute to her downfall. Tess’ strong sense of duty compels her to make the delivery herself when her father is too drunk. “Oh no, I wouldn’t have it for the world… I could go,” Tess expresses a high level of responsibility and determination to rectify the situation when her family is unable to do so.
Tess demonstrates her selflessness and overwhelming sense of responsibility when she kills Prince. In response, she begins to ask herself rhetorical questions such as “What will father and mother live on now?” Her thoughts are solely focused on the well-being of her family, which deeply distresses her as she experiences extreme guilt. Thomas Hardy accentuates the theme of Tess’ guilt by metaphorically likening her to a murderess: “Her face appeared dry and pale, as if she saw herself as a murderer.”
Despite the death of Prince not being Tess’ fault, she assumed complete responsibility for it, which caused her immense anguish. By using the term “murderess,” Hardy conveys the heavy burden placed on Tess’ shoulders with a strong negative and violent implication. It was these intense and extreme emotions that drove Tess into Alec’s arms. Hardy enables the reader to fully engage with Tess’ life and showcases the repercussions of pushing things to the limit and excessively demeaning oneself. Furthermore, Hardy raises doubts about the concept of fate and ponders on the existence of human free will.
According to the author, it is incorrect to solely blame ‘fate’ for wrong and unjust events. This notion is exemplified in the scene where Tess was raped by Alec. The people from Tess’s own community often reassured themselves fatalistically by saying: ‘It was to be.’ This is where the tragedy lies, as expressed by the author in a critically despondent tone. Hardy believes that it was not ‘meant to be’ and that people could have intervened to protect Tess. Thus, the real tragedy stems from society’s mindset.
Tess’ lack of power and victimization by various societal factors is portrayed throughout the story. However, in Phase the Seventh, Tess finally takes control of her own destiny by killing Alec. Despite this act, Hardy suggests that it may be too late for Tess. “The oblong white ceiling, with this scarlet blot in the midst, had the appearance of a gigantic ace of hearts” (382). In including the image of an ace of hearts made from Alec’s blood, Hardy symbolizes the gamble that Tess took by killing him and demonstrates her newfound power and strength.
The recurring motif in the novel is the colors red and white, with white symbolizing innocence and red representing passion, aggression, and sin. Despite Tess finally taking control of her own fate, it is too late as the irreparable damage has already been done. Through Hardy’s novel, readers are immersed in Tess’s tragic world and gain insights into the importance of strength and fighting for autonomy. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Hardy allows readers to explore a new world and understand Tess and her society. Hardy uses his novel to critique the hypocritical nature of organized religion in society and promotes the idea of individuals finding their own spiritual path.
Tess’ pregnancy and birth became a scandalous topic of gossip among the villagers. This tragic and ironic situation unfolded even at church, a place meant to provide security and freedom from judgment. Hardy’s use of intense emotive language on page 85 captures the deep sadness that Tess feels as she becomes aware of the whispers about her. She is heartbroken and feels unable to continue attending church. This irony lies in the fact that people who come to church to pray and listen to God’s word are the ones passing judgment on Tess.
This passage highlights Hardy’s critique of organized religion and its hypocrisy. The judgmental nature of society prevents Tess from giving her child a proper Christian burial. The parson, though aware of the rightness of burying the child, refuses to do so with certainty due to undisclosed reasons (page 97). Once again, Hardy emphasizes the negative impact of organized religion and the grave consequences it imposes on individuals.