In Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Tess Durbeyfield is a victim

of uncontrollable and incomprehensible outside forces. Tess can be characterized

as a yielding, unsuspicious, and fundamentally pure young woman who is

struggling against a fate that is too strong for her. Tess can easily be seen as a

victim of circumstance, society and male idealism, who fights the hardest fight.

Yet, she 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 family horse, Prince, who was the

Durbeyfield family's main source of livelihood, that commences the set of

circumstances that envelopes Tess." (Bergtraum 1) Tess viewed herself as the

cause of her family's economic downfall, however, she also saw herself as the

murderess of Prince. The imagery at this point in the novel showed how distraught

and guilt ridden Tess was as she placed her hand upon Prince's wound in a futile

attempt to prevent blood loss that could not be prevented. This imagery was

equivalent to a photographic proof, a lead-up to the events that would shape Tess's

life. The symbolic fact that Tess perceived herself to be comparable to a murderess

was an insight into the murder that she would eventually commit. This was also a

reference to the level of guilt that then consumed her. Nobody blamed Tess as

much as she blamed herself, and this showed how she regarded herself with such

low self esteem.

Tess's parents, aware of her beauty, viewed Tess as an opportunity for

future wealth. Because of this, as well as the unfortunate circumstance of Prince's

death, they urged Tess to venture out from their home in Marlott to seek financial

assistance from the D'Urberville's in nearby Trantridge. This was the place where

she first encountered the sexually dominating and partially demonic Alec

D'Urberville, whom she later fell victim to. Alec's first words to Tess were, "Well

my beauty, what can I do for you?" "These words indicate that Alec's first

impression of Tess is only one of sexual magnetism." (Berc 42) Alec then

proceeded to charm Tess by pushing strawberries into her mouth and pressing

roses into her bosom. These initial signs of love were an indication of Alec's lust

and sexual desire for Tess as he continually preyed upon her purity and rural

innocence. Tess unwillingly became a victim to Alec's inhumane, violent, and

aggressive sexual advances. Alec, who was always a master of opportunities, took

advantage of Tess while they were alone in the woods. It was there that Alec

proceeded to rape Tess. This was where Tess fell subject to the crueler side of

human nature as Alec seized upon her vulnerability.

After this act of sexual violation, with her innocence taken away, Tess fled

home. Although she escaped the trap of Alec for the time being, her circumstance

was similar to that of a wounded animal, her blood of innocence had been

released. "It is here in the novel that Hardy paints a picture of Alec that is meant to

portray him as being a form of Satan to Tess." (Berc 98) Here, Tess was

undoubtedly a victim, and her lack of understanding over these matters increased

the guilt that was already laid upon her. To add further to her shame, she came

across a holy man who was a constant traveler, and as he moved from town to

town he painted excerpts from the bible around the countryside. One of the man's

quotes was, "THY, DAMNATION, SLUMBERETH, NOT", and Tess was

horrified when she thought about how relevant it was to her own misfortunes. At

that point Tess was a victim to her own self. "She is trapped in a society that

condemns her, when in all reality she has broken no law of nature." (LaValley


After this Tess returned to work in the field. There, Tess witnessed the

rabbits that were forced to shelter in the corn rows in which they dwelled. These

corn rows were reaped, and the harvesters killed every one of them with sticks and

stones. This was symbolic of Tessís own situation, as she was being separated

little by little from family and friends and from her childhood innocence. This was

one of the