Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles - Existentialist Failure to Create and Preserve Meaning

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles - Existentialist Failure to Create and Preserve Meaning

When wilt thou awake, O Mother, wake and see‹

As one who, held in trance, has laboured long

By vacant rote and prepossession strong‹

The coils that thou hast wrought unwittingly;

Wherein have place, unrealized by thee,

Fair growths, foul cankers, right enmeshed with wrong,

Strange orchestras of victim-shriek and song,

And curious blends of ache and ecstasy?‹

(Hardy, "The Sleep-Worker")

Inherent in the ruthless progress of society, there paradoxically lies a growing moral deterioration. In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy "faithfully present[s]" Tess as a paragon of virtue, utilizing her as an instrument of criticism against a society too debauched to sustain the existence "of its finest individuals" (Wickens 104). Unwilling to compromise her strict adherence to personal morals, Tess suffers immensely; her ultimate inability to exist on this "blighted" (21) star exposes the regression of a hypocritically sanctimonious society, whose degraded values catalyze her destruction.

Innocently unaware of "cruel Nature's law[,]" (115) Tess is violated by the response which her sexuality arouses in Alec. Yet, although it is nature which induces Tess to lose her virginity, it is society which renders this loss a sin. Tess's change from "a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience" (8) to one stained by a "corporeal blight" (98) elicits a severe social condemnation. Ironically, in its attempt to deny the natural instincts of mankind, social selection takes on the characteristic ethical absence of natural selection, "ensuring that the social relations among people will...

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...Hardy, "The Darkling Thrush")

Works Cited

Beer, Gillian. "Finding a Scale for the Human." Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1991.

Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1991.

Hardy, Thomas. "The Sleep-Worker." Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1991.

Hazen, James. "The Tragedy of Tess Durbeyfield."

Howe, Irving. "At the Center of Hardy's Achievement." Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1991.

Hyman, Virginia R. "The Evolution of Tess." Ethical Perspectives in the Novels of Thomas Hardy.

Wickens, G. Glen. "Hardy and the Mythographers: The Myth of Demeter and Persephone in Tess of the d'Urbervilles."

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