Tess D’Urberville, the protagonist of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, must ask herself this very important question as she navigates the complexity of her life. Although she must provide for her family by running errands, taking care of her younger siblings, and managing her unruly parents Tess is a product of her culture. She is unintentionally passive in dire situations – such as when she drifted into a reverie and killed the family horse, or when fell asleep and was raped. Tess is also a symbol of purity, innocence and fertility like many other women of the time. Although social stigmas and her immoral social status are hindering, Tess’s burdensome past is the problem that truly prevents her ...view middle of the document...
The church and society will have nothing to do with Tess, a fallen woman. Tess’s first attempt at reinventing herself was met with intense scrutiny and judgment. The humiliation of working with a fallen woman weighs heavily on Vicar’s conscience.
Although society and the church have abandoned Tess, she is still able to preserve some her pride and optimism. After her disgrace, Tess is still able to escape and stay “as much out of observation as possible” (84). The Vicar would not bury her child so Tess did. Tess can easily move on from these hindrances.
The optimism and hope Tess has is demonstrated in her resolve to leave the D’Urberville air castles “in the deeds of her new life” (100). Determined to shed her tainted image, Tess does not mention anything about her shady past. With an uplifted spirit Tess begins work at Talbothay’s Dairy. Because of the holy, ethereal, “dazzling” image Tess puts forth Angel Clare falls in love with her (131). The first time Angel asks Tess to marry him, Tess admits that “I can never be his wife” – that marriage is impossible (181). The second time Angel proposes, Tess hesitates, saying that the other farm girls surely love him more that she does. Although she resolved to start anew, Tess’s prior indecencies prevent her from committing completely to her relationship with Angel. Tess – and the narrator – feel that it would be immoral to marry Angel because she would not be able to fulfill the pure, innocent wife image Angel desires.
In order feel completely free, Tess needs to “tell all her history to Angel Clare” (200). She defies her mother’s warning to not “say a word of your Bygone trouble to him” even adding that it would be rather foolish of Tess to give herself away in such a manner (191). Tess’s conscience will not allow her to live with burden.
Tess’s plan to free herself and be honest with Angel backfires due to her apparent lack of social integrity. She cannot truly develop a sense of freedom because social regulations and double standards cannot bring Angel to forgive her.
After Angel departs...