Tess Durbeyfield is a victim of both external and internal forces. Passive and yielding, unsuspicious and fundamentally pure, she suffers a weakness of will and reason, struggling against a fate that is too strong for her to overcome. Tess falls victim to circumstance, society, and male idealism. Tess may be unable to overcome these apparent difficulties is destroyed by her ravaging self-destructive sense of guilt, life denial and the cruelty of two men.
It is primarily the death of the horse, Prince, the Durbeyfield’s main source of livelihood that commences the web of circumstance that envelops Tess. The imagery at this point in the novel shows how distraught and guilt ridden Tess is as she places her hand upon Prince’s wound in a futile attempt to prevent the blood loss that cannot be prevented. The imagery is equivalent to a photographic proof - a lead-up to the events that will shape Tess’s life and the inevitable “evil” that also, like the crimson blood that spouts from Prince’s wound, cannot be stopped. The symbolic fact that Tess perceives herself to be comparable to a murderess is an insight into the murder that she will eventually commit and is also a reference to the level of guilt that now consumes her. “Nobody blamed Tess as she blamed herself... she regarded herself in the light of a murderess.”
Tess views herself as the cause of her family’s economic downfall. Tess’s parents, aware of her beauty, view Tess as an opportunity for future accumulation of wealth. With the unfortunate circumstance of Prince’s death Tess, is urged to venture from the “engirded and secluded region” of Marlott to seek financial assistance from the D’urberville’s in nearby Trantridge. It is here in Trantridge that she first encounters the sexually dominating and somewhat demonic Alec D’urberville. Alec’s first words to Tess, “Well, my Beauty, what can I do for you?” indicate that first impression of Tess is only of sexual magnetism. Alec then proceeds to charm Tess by pushing strawberries into her mouth and pressing roses into her bosom. These fruits of love are an indication of Alec’s lust and sexual desire for Tess as he preys upon her purity and rural innocence. Tess unwillingly becomes a victim to Alec’s inhumane, violent and aggressive sexual advances. Alec, always the master of opportunities, takes advantage of her while alone in the woods and proceeds to rape Tess. Tess has fallen subject to the crueler side of human nature as Alec seizes upon her vulnerability.
After this sexual violation and corruption of innocence, Tess flees home. Although she has escaped the trap of the sexually rapacious Alec for the time being, her circumstance is similar to that of a wounded animal, her blood of innocence has been released. At this time Hardy gives reference to Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece, “where the serpent hisses the sweet birds song”. Tess is undoubtedly a victim of male idealism and society. Her lack of understanding over such matters only...