Reinvention of Self in Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

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Tess D’Urberville, the protagonist of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, must ask herself this very important question as she navigates the complexity of her life. Although she must provide for her family by running errands, taking care of her younger siblings, and managing her unruly parents Tess is a product of her culture. She is unintentionally passive in dire situations – such as when she drifted into a reverie and killed the family horse, or when fell asleep and was raped. Tess is also a symbol of purity, innocence and fertility like many other women of the time. Although social stigmas and her immoral social status are hindering, Tess’s burdensome past is the problem that truly prevents her from escaping her fate and developing a sense of freedom even after her voluntary and involuntary attempts to reinvent herself. Tess was not always accustomed to changing her viewpoints and actions to free herself. After she was horribly raped, Tess confronts her neglectful mother that the rape would not have happened if only Tess “knew what to guard against” (82). At first Tess was unaware that she could control her fate, and she therefore suffers greatly for it. The rape incident took Tess’s purity and sense of self. Society condemns Tess for her rape, and she is consequently ostracized as a fallen woman. Already Tess feels like the “figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence” (86). The first time Tess defies society is when she attempts to restore her reputation and save her baby. It was believed that if a baby was not baptized and it would go to Hell. Wanting to save her child from its unfortunate fate Tess “set about baptizing her child”, an activity reserved for religious leaders (94). When her baby, baptized Sorrow dies, ... ... middle of paper ... ...and despair have been manifesting in Tess. In a climatic murderous fury, Tess kills Alec, the man who raped her and “tore her life all to pieces” (381). Tess, once a caged bird, appears to be free. But has Tess achieved true freedom? The narrator agrees that Tess has found true happiness in that she does not think of her past anymore because “why should we” (389). Women who lived in this time period were expected to be pure, chaste, and innocent. When Tess is stripped of all of these attributes she fights to restore what was brazenly taken from her. Regardless of the amount of times she reinvents herself, society, social stigmas and her dark past prevent her from freeing herself of her burdens. However, when Tess realizes that she has the chance to change her fate, she actively changes herself into a strong, resilient woman – which ultimately leads to her demise.

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