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Tess Of The D'urbervilles Essay

1308 words - 6 pages

The term culture comes from "cultura animi,” or “cultivation of the soul.” One’s culture is a manifestation of where they come from, a huge part of who one is. However, when one must fight against one’s own culture, it’s like fighting against oneself. This is what Tess Durbeyfield had to do in Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Tess’s strength develops as she contends with two cultural issues; the cultural expectation for women to be pure, and the cultural system of a social hierarchy.
In Tess of the D'urbervilles, there is a double standard for women, for Tess. Women are expected to be pure because without their pureness, they are soiled and unsuitable for marriage. Therefore, when Tess was taken advantage of by Alec D’urberville, she was blamed, punished, despised. She had to bear the burden of humility and despair. Tess was criticized for being a single mother, she wasn’t even allowed to baptize her child because of its illegitimacy, nor was she allowed to give it a proper religious burial. Furthermore, Tess also had to live with the guilt of being impure because society said that she was wrong, and had done a terrible thing, even though Tess herself was not to blame. Tess also lost the love of her life because the man she loved was more in love with his cultural beliefs than Tess. When a woman becomes impure she is exiled from the community and lost of any chance to lead a normal life. For men, the consequences of becoming debased are not nearly as severe:
“He then told her of that time of his life to which allusion has been made when, tossed about by doubts and difficulties like a cork on the waves, he went to London and plunged into eight-and-forty hours’ dissipation with a stranger” (220).
Dissipation in this context can refer to a dissolute way of living, especially and excessive indulgence of liquor or even passion. Angel Clare freely admitted to falling wayward from the path of righteousness, expecting full forgiveness from a woman. When Tess admitted to being raped, and therefore being void of her purity, Angel replied saying, “‘Forgiveness does not apply to the case. . . . How can forgiveness meet such a prestidigitation as that?” (223). This reveals the injustice for women, that women must actively guard their purity with their lives while men have the luxury of making mistakes. Furthermore, for women, it matters not if she is a victim of a crime, as long as a woman is bereft of her purity, she is unworthy to be wed. In fact, the title of the fifth phase is “The Woman Pays,” suggesting that there is a debt for which Tess must be atoned. However, this debt is not inflicted upon Angel who was corrupt, nor for Alec who defiled Tess. This shows that punishment is reserved solely for women, which reflects on the cultural expectation of a woman’s purity. Despite all that Tess went through, she was able to become stronger because of it. As she told Angel of her woes, “Tess’s voice throughout had hardly risen higher than its...

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