Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Task Four

Some critics point to Tess’s life as a succession of journeys. Identify two of these journeys and explain

  1. what she learns from them and
  2. how is she affected by her experience?

 

  • The journey to the market when Prince is killed, teaches her that she cannot rely on her parents, but she is crippled by her sense of responsibility to her family afterwards.
  • She journeys to Trantridge to claim kin with d’Urberville. She learns of the threat posed by men, especially those from a superior class, the main effect being her rape and pregnancy.
  • The walk home from Trantridge, when she encounters the sign-writer and her sense of guilt is reinforced as she learns that the Bible considers her damned already. The also serves to reinforce her own sense of having failed.

Tess resists Alec’s advances by jumping out of the gig for her hat, which she deliberately let fly away. Tess thinks of returning home but decides to stay; at this point, Tess still feels she has choice.

Is Tess really free to make a decision for herself? Give reasons for your answer.

While Tess is ostensibly free to make her own decisions, she is trapped by other considerations. First, she feels obliged to her family. Hardy explains her feelings, saying, “How could she face her parents… and disconcert the whole scheme for the rehabilitation of her family?” She feels she must stay to help the family.

Does this decision to stay make her at all responsible for Alec’s sexually violating her later?

By twenty-first century standards, there is no justification for rape. However, earlier periods may have believed that Tess’s failure to explicitly reject Alec made her complicit. This is hard to argue now, but there are occasions when Tess is able to reject him and does not. Her reproach to her mother is telling, however, suggesting that Tess was unaware of what Alec threatened: “I was a child when I left this house four month ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance of discovering in that way, and you did not help me!” Tess was an innocent, and not strong enough mentally to reject Alec because of his superior social station.

The title of the second phase deals with the significance of Tess’s sexual experience in her view, in society’s view, and in nature.Which of these does Hardy believe to be right? Give reasons for your answer.

As discussed previously, Hardy scorns the religious attitudes towards Tess. These are embodied in the line,  “shameless nature, who respects not the civil law”. He is clear here that nature’s law and Christian law are separate, and often in conflict with one another. The way he idealises Tess as a child of nature, and encourages the reader to sympathise with her, makes clear his admiration, thus confirming that he rejects the Church’s view of Tess.

Though it is clearly a crucial event in Tess’s life, what actually happened on The Chase is unclear.

Was Tess raped or seduced? Give two quotations to support your answer.

We are told that Tess “drew a quick pettish breath of objection” and writhed “uneasily” in her seat. Again, it is true that Tess did not give a direct rebuttal to Alec, but her mannerisms suggest her discomfort. This is not the behaviour of someone flirting.

How much do you think Tess is responsible for what happened?

She was reluctant to give a yes/ no answer because she understood the financial ramifications for her family if she lost her job at Trantridge. She is caught between her natural dislike and her sense of obligation to her family. She cannot physical reject him because he “enclosed her waist with his arm”. In addition, she cannot leave him because “We are miles away from Trantridge…” If she leaves him, she would be lost in the wood alone.

When Tess hesitates in answering Alec’s request to become his mistress, is she flirting, and is her hesitation deliberately or even unconsciously encouraging?

We are told that Tess “drew a quick pettish breath of objection” and writhed “uneasily” in her seat. Again, it is true that Tess did not give a direct rebuttal to Alec, but her mannerisms suggest her discomfort. This is not the behaviour of someone flirting.

Give two reasons (with supporting quotations) why it is difficult for Tess to reject Alec outright.

Her family are relying on Tess’s ability to provide for them.

Alec is her social superior, and a man. It was unacceptable for someone to act against the class above them.