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Tess Durbeyfield is a victim of external and uncomprehended 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. Tess is the easiest victim of circumstance, society and male
idealism, who fights the hardest fight yet 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. Tess views herself as the cause of her families economic
downfall, however she also believes that she is parallel to a murderess.
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. This 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
Her parents, aware of her beauty, view Tess as an opportunity for future
wealth and coupled with the unfortunate circumstance of Prince’s death
urge Tess to venture from the ‘engirdled and secluded region’ of Marlott
to seek financial assistance from the D’urberville’s in nearby Trantridge
. It is here that she first encounters the sexually dominating and
somewhat demonic Alec D’urberville, whom she is later to fall victim to.
Alec’s first words to Tess , “Well, my Beauty, what can I do for you?”
indicate that his first impression of Tess is only one 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 as Alec, always the master
of opportunities, takes advantage of her whilst alone in the woods and
rapes her. Tess has fallen subject to the crueller side of human nature as
Alec seizes upon her vulnerability.
After this sexual violation and corruption of innocence, Tess flees home
and 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 sing’ suggesting that Alec was equivalent to Satan
tempting Eve. Tess is undoubtedly a victim and her lack of understanding
over such matters only increases the guilt that already embodies her. To
add further to her shame she chances upon a holy man who paints exerts
from the bible around the countryside. In red accusatory letters she reads
“THY, DAMNATION, SLUMBERETH, NOT” and is horrified to think how relevant
it is to her recent misfortunes. Tess at this stage is a victim to her own
self - conscience and she becomes a recluse trapped within her home - away
from the society that has unjustfully condemned her whilst in reality she
has broken no law of nature.
Returning to work in the field, Tess witnesses the rabbits forced further
to shelter as the corn rows in which they dwell are reaped and the
harvesters kill every one of them with sticks and stones. This is symbolic
of Tess’s own situation as she is being separated little by little from
family and friends and from her childhood innocence ,it is suggestive of
the loneliness she now feels. The baby she has baptised as Sorrow dies,
his name being an indication of the anguish that has taken place within
Tess due to the circumstances of his conceival and it also epitomises what
is to follow through the events of her own sorrowful life.
In an attempt to start her life anew, Tess decides to move away from the
seclusion of Marlott to Talbothays - where no one will know of her past.
Although filled with natural optimism, Tess’s past has already begun to
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Film, Literature, Cinema of France, Tess of the dUrbervilles, Tess, Anguish, Midnights Choice
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