Alec D’Urberville, a Heroic Tragedy
2/4/2004


Honors English 10


Tess of the D’Urbervilles essay


Aristotle first defined the meaning of what a tragic hero was in the times of ancient Greece. Today that same definition is still being used, appearing in countless literary works. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles is no exception. In the novel, the character Alec D’Urberville is a wonderful example of what a tragic hero is. His personal flaws lead to the own demise of himself and the people around him, and ultimately his own death. He is a Tragic Hero.


As the story begins to play out Hardy introduces Alec D’Urberville. He is portrayed as an insouciant young man whom seems to take advantage of his wealth and status. His real name, however, isn’t D’Urberville at all but instead Stoke. When Tess first meets with him she describes Alec to have “…almost a swarthy complexion”(51). This is an obvious reference to his less then noble origins. His greatest flaw is perhaps is his divided and duplicitous personality. His full last name, Stoke-D’Urberville, symbolizes the split character of his family, whose origins are simpler than their pretensions to grandeur. This is most evident at the very end of the novel, when he quickly abandons his newfound Christian faith upon re-meeting Tess. It is hard to believe Alec holds his religion, or anything else, sincerely. Alec D’Urberville also a womanizer. During his attempts to woo Tess into a relationship with him, Car Dartch, a hand at the D’Urberville mansion, reveals Tess isn’t the first young peasant girl Alec has tried to seduce. She says “ … th’ beest first favorite right now with he just now!”(81). If there were one individual that best represented Alec it would be Satan. ‘Stoke’ inspires images of fiery energies, as the stoking a furnace or the flames of hell. His devilish links are evident when he wields a pitchfork while addressing Tess early in the novel, and when he seduces her as the serpent in Genesis seduced Eve. Additionally, Alec does not try to hide his bad qualities. In fact, like Satan, he revels in them. He bluntly tells Tess, “I suppose I am a bad fellow—a damn bad fellow. I was born bad, and I have lived bad, and I shall die bad, in all probability”(93). Like Satan, Alec symbolizes the basic forces of life that drive a person away from moral perfection and greatness.


Using these qualities he begins malevolently twisting the characters he comes into contact with. Most importantly he alters Tess’s life significantly. Tess is no match for Alec because she is naïve and inexperienced while he is worldly and sophisticated. He uses every way possible to try and make her succumb to him, and it is not until Alec rescues her from a fight in chapter 10 that she finally gives in. Sensing the opportunity, Alec purposefully gets lost in the woods, and rapes her while she sleeps. Tess then is with child, and subsequently her situation begins to worsen. Alec disappears after this until chapter 44, but his actions, specifically the rape, affect the story immensely. Alec then returns as a street minister, but renounces his new faith as soon as he meets with Tess once more. Using logic that only Devil himself would spin onto a girl in Tess’s situation, he accuses her of his slip from his ministry. He informs her, “You have been the means- innocent means- of my backsliding, as they call it”(339). The guilt Alec places on Tess ultimately pushes her over the edge and leads to her hanging at the end of the book. No matter what Alec says however, he himself is responsible for his own demise. Through his own actions, he sets himself up for his fall and untimely death.


With the pieces in position and the opposition moving to kill, Alec D’Urberville blindly lends a guiding hand to his own checkmate. Through his whole life he takes advantage of the people around him using his suave talk and abundant wealth. Little did Alec know that Tess, the peasant girl whom he would seduce and ultimately fall in love with, would be his end. It was his constant use of the art of deception that overcame