SAC Out come 2 – Literature
In “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” Hardy does expose the social injustices and double standards which prevail in the late nineteenth century.
These injustices and double standards are evident throughout the whole novel, and Tess, the main character, is the one who suffers them.
This becomes evident from the first page when Parson Tringham meets Jack Durbeyfield and refers to him as “Sir John”. With his whimsical comment, made from the safety of a secure social position, the Parson begins the events which start the destruction and downfall of the whole Durbeyfield family.
Logically the fact that Tess’s family and their “gentlefolk” relatives have the same descendents should mean that both sides of the family are equal, but this is not true.
Hardy makes this obvious in the contrast between Tess’s mother’s dialect and the sense of her words,
“That was all a part of the larry! We’ve been found to be the greatest gentlefolk in the whole county.”p.21
The industrial revolution had begun a social revolution, and with ideas of democracy becoming popular, the notion of equality existed. But in the areas of England that housed the “landed gentry” it was no more than a notion. The gentry and peasantry were still totally separate and even if the gentry espoused the idea of equality, as Tess was accepted into the richer side of the family, the acceptance was hypocritical.
As we find out later in the novel, Alec is not even a real D’Urberville; this perhaps represents the false and dishonest nature of that class privilege. It also highlights how arbitrary inherited position is.
Alec D’Urberville, who believed because he had social position that he could do whatever he wanted, treated Tess cruelly. This raises the questions, should the rich treat the poor as they do? And how do the rich get rich? Could it be because they treat the peasants as they do? If they always have someone to look down upon they will always be of a higher class. If they are superior they have a duty to treat the less fortunate with respect and help them.
One of the reasons the higher-class people saw themselves as superior was because of their strict religious beliefs. What ever happened to “do unto others”, and the fundamental equality of all before god? They are strongly religious but can still treat the peasants with disrespect and superiority. I believe that the whole religious scene was hypocritical. Where is the church during Tess’s misfortunes? Angel Clare is a man of strong religious beliefs but he cannot find it in himself to forgive her for a sin that was not even her fault. Not only this, it was a sin of which he too was guilty – they both had a premarital affair. This leads us to the hypocrisy in the different standards set for men and women. True, this difference was common to the whole society, but Hardy does appear to be a pioneer in highlighting the injustice. At the end of phase the fourth, Angel admits to plunging into “eight and fourty hours’ dissipation with a stranger” (page 225). Tess’s forgiveness is immediate. She says: “Oh, Angel – I am almost glad – because now you can forgive me!” (Page 225)
In her simplicity she believes all will be well but that is not the case. Phase the fifth is titled The Woman Pays. Angel blames her for this very simplicity. He is not willing to live with her and bring shame upon their future family. Angel can be forgiven with a word, but not Tess. As Hardy points out “The woman pays”.
This is not only shown between Tess and Angel or Alex but by most of the men throughout the book, starting with her father. When Jack Durbeyfield gets drunk at The Pure Drop Tess is expected to do his work for him. While doing this she kills
Prince, which leads to her misfortunes at Trantridge. Tess not only has to work for her father when he is drunk, she is expected to cover for his stupidity, as is her mother. An example of this is when Jack rides past the May dance, everyone assumes he is drunk and Tess is left to defend his behaviour.
” He’s tired, that all,’ she said hastily, and he has got a lift home,'”(p.15) When Tess says this no one believes her. As her friends say,
“Bless thy simplicity, Tess” (Page 15)
In Tess’s society it was more acceptable for a man than a woman in authority to be cruel or unjust. Alec is not seen as a bad man for what he has done. To an extent even Tess’s parents blame her for everything that happened at Trantridge. On hearing the whole story Tess’s mother says,
” And yet th’st not got him to marry ee!’ “reiterated her mother. Any woman would have done it but you’ “Apparently Tess’s pride was more of a sin than Alec’s rape of her.
There seems to be no escape for Tess from the social injustice which is her fate. There is no authority that will champion a mistreated peasant like Tess, in both the situation with Alec, and Tess being from a poor family. The only voice of dissent is from Hardy, the novelist. Even with Angel, her husband, she has no avenue for complaint.
People assume the woman was in the wrong but on what was Angel’s reaction actually based? It could have been an immature and egotistical reaction to the fact that someone “had” Tess before he did, and if so, what about his responsibility for his preloved status? There was really no interest in this at the time, but Hardy does bring it to the reader’s attention.
The last phase is called fulfilment, and Hardy finishes his long tale of misfortune and injustice. In a sense there is fulfilment. Tess is not released from the injustice or hypocrisy that she has suffered, but Hardy has ensured that it has been made apparent. The evil and false Alec is butchered, and Hardy does not encourage sorrow about this in the reader. Tess experiences forgiveness and the peace of total love from her Angel’. Her last moments of love are set by Hardy in an ancient place that transcends the preoccupations and petty divisions of her time. Tess has stood with innocence and pride against all the injustice that was sent to her. This strength makes her endure as a symbol of the triumph of innocence over social restrictions, and a deeper meaning seems to imbue the beginning of Hardy’s last paragraph:
” Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals.had ended his sport with Tess”.(p.397)
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the Durbervilles, Penguin Classics, 1998