Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Thomas Hardy believed that everyone is a toy in the hands of fate, and that fate is particularly harsh to women. In the book, he develops this theme in his portrayal of Tess. In the subtitle, Hardy addresses his main character as a "Pure Woman". Tess is, indeed, depicted as a pure woman with no tragic flaw in her character. She is innocently seduced by Alec D'Urberville, and throughout the rest of the book, she must fight the fate he has bestowed on her. She is rejected by society and deserted by her husband as a result of being a victim of a crime. She constantly tries to escape her haunting past and to find personal happiness, but is unable to do so. She is labeled a "sinner" and is constantly trapped by the man who violated her, while he goes unpunished.
Finally Tess has had enough punishment and takes fate into her own hands; she kills her seducer. But in the end, she herself is hanged for her retaliation. Hardy, therefore, says through Tess that fate always has the upper hand.
Thomas Hardy also believed that middle class prejudices always exist. Although Angel's parents are devoted to their parish duties, instructing and guiding people about morality, they never forgive Tess or accept her as their daughter-in-law. Angel himself, who claims to have a more liberal and rational outlook than his parents, deserts his wife because she is the victim of a sexual seduction. Only at a later stage, after he has suffered greatly himself, does Angel see that Tess is pure and should be forgiven.
An atmosphere of impending doom pervades the novel, always foreshadowing more sadness and tragedy. Although hope and happiness are also present in some places in the book, they are overshadowed by the sorrows and gloom of human life. Hardy develops an image that no matter how hard human beings fight against the odds for happiness, fate is in control and often causes tragedy.