The Major Themes of Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Here are major themes of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Some of these
themes contradict one another; others are complementary. Consider each
of these themes in depth, using the text to substantiate your ideas.
The novel is about Tess- her personality, trials, growth, and
development. While many novels concern the interaction of
characters, Tess of the D'Urbervilles concentrates almost
single-mindedly on the life of its heroine. The other characters are
important only insofar as they affect Tess' fate. Some readers see
Tess as a detailed story of the psychology of an unchaste woman- how
she deals with her own morality.
Tess can also be viewed as the symbol of valiant challenge against
both the rigid morality and religious dogma of the old order, and
the skepticism of the modern world. Tess' story is that of a woman who
tries to respond to the changing world around her with honesty and
integrity. She can be viewed as an independent, active heroine who
chooses martyrdom. She can also be seen as a victim either of
society or of her own nature, who has no choice but to let herself
RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
Tess is an exploration of love and passion. Tess' relationships with
Alec and Angel are as different as night and day. Alec is a man driven
by his senses, while Angel focuses on his ideals and dreams. To
Alec, Tess is an erotic object existing solely for his enjoyment. To
Angel, Tess is the epitome of purity (at least until she confesses her
"fall"). Tess herself combines Alec's sensual nature tempered by
Angel's spirituality. She prefers, however, to live in a state of
unerotic betrothal, in which the fantasy of romance is often more
appealing to her than the more sexual aspects of love between a man
and a woman.
Hardy was disturbed by Victorian hypocrisy toward sex. Most people
hid their sexual impulses, expected good women not to have any, and
applied a double standard to the sexual practices of men and women.
This standard condemns Tess for having premarital sex. Hardy
explores sex as both a painful and a pleasurable experience. Tess'
dairymaid friends writhe and weep over their impossible love for
Angel, and Tess herself finally accepts his proposal because she can no longer bear the...