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Free Study Guide-Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy-Free Book Notes
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Though the main action of the novel centers on Tess's character, there are other characters that Hardy develops to show their relationship with or influence on Tess. Like Tess, each of these characters is drawn with artistic detail to show a blend of weakness and strength, governed by fate. Most of the characters are people from the lower strata of society, because Hardy found these types of people most interesting. He believed that the upper class always followed the strict conventions of their society, whereas the lower class was freer to act in truth and sincerity.

Tess shares a close relationship with her family. She is especially close to her mother Joan, who is a poor and uneducated woman with a practical mind. Her practicality is seen when she does not make an issue over Tess's pregnancy and when she advises her daughter not to reveal her past to Angel. Throughout the book, Tess relies on her mother for counsel and companionship. Tess's relationship with her father does not seem to be close. She sees him for what he is, lazy, uneducated, and opinionated. She is hurt when he doubts her marriage to Angel and when he will not let her call the parson when Sorrow is dying. Her brothers and sisters love her and look upon her as their savior, which she is. Except for Liza Lu, her siblings are too young to understand the gravity of Tess's life.

Alec and Angel play crucial roles in shaping the future of Tess. Her seducer repents his act and offers redemption in the form of marriage, but by then she is already married. A cunning manipulator by nature, he tries to manipulate Tess by offering to help her family, for whom she feels responsible. He also manipulates her into believing that Angel will never return. As a result, he manipulates her into a relationship that causes her to murder him. Angel, though basically good, also does terrible harm to Tess. Because of his rigid principles, he rejects her because of her past sin. In the end his intentions are noble, but he has taken too long to come to the rescue of Tess.


Hardy uses certain dominant images in the novel to develop the central character and predict her future. The first disaster in the story that changes the course of events for Tess is the death of Prince, the family work horse. Tess feels like she has murdered the horse and is miserable in her guilt. When she tries to check the horse's flow of blood, some of the drops are splashed on her face and skirt. Therefore, red becomes an unpleasant symbol, associated with death. The next time the color red is used is when she meets Alec. He stands in the "blood-ray in the spectrum".

Throughout the rest of the book, Alec is portrayed in colors of red and black, a symbol of Satan. The sign painter uses red paint for his message:


When Tess sees the red letters, she feels so guilty she wants to die. The most significant red image is present after Alec's death. The landlady notices a red spot on her ceiling that grows larger and larger against the white background of the ceiling. All of these "blood red " images indicate destruction and death. The novel begins with the shedding of Prince's blood and ends with the shedding of Alec's blood.


In Hardy's novels, fate always reigns supreme controlling the destinies of his characters. His characters appear as puppets in the hands of destiny with their fate always working against them and bringing them doom. This results in tragedy and misery for the mortals. Hardy, therefore, seems to warn the reader that fate is in control.

Like all of his characters, Tess, Alec, and Angel are victims of fate. The unexpected always seems to happen, and it is always undesirable. Tess meets the wrong man first and the right man later. Even though she resists the wrong man, fate does not let her escape him throughout the novel. The cruelty of fate is also seen when her letter of confession never reaches Angel, when Tess happens to stop and hear an itinerant preacher who turns out to be Alec, and when her husband returns right after she has succumbed to Alec's temptations. Tess suffers because everything happens contrary to her wishes and expectations. Fate is also unkind to Angel, who learns forgiveness too late. Even the evil Alec is a victim of fate, for selfish passion and lust rule his life.

Love also proves fatal for Tess. She worships Angel, and the blind irresistible power of fate in the guise of love mauls her emotionally. She pays terribly for loving Angel too much. Even though he refuses to forgive her, sends her away, and flees to Brazil, Tess is driven by her love for Angel. It is on account of her love for him that she stabs Alec. As a result of Tess's heartbreak, Hardy seems to be saying that love causes suffering and rarely brings happiness to people.

Hardy's characters are governed and controlled by fate in such a way that they have no free will and their actions are not voluntary. Destiny compels them to act or behave in the fashion they do.

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