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This is a novel by Thomas Hardy, whose setting is in the 19th century. Hardy tells the story of a young woman Tess Durbeyfield and uses her character to bring out main themes. Tess is from a poor family background, the Durbeyfields. Her parents after realizing that they are descendants of a royal family blood, the D’urbervilles, decide to send her there to acquire fortune. She meets Alec, the D’Urbevilles’ son, who gives her a job.
One day Alec takes advantage of her in the woods. She becomes pregnant; goes back home and give birth to a baby who soon dies. She then finds work as a milkmaid. Tess meets Angel who later proposes to her, and they get married. After discovering her past, Angel does not forgive Tess, making him to leave her for Brazil. When he finally comes back for her, she is living with Alec. Tess then kills Alec and run into hiding with Angel. The law catches up with her. The story ends by her execution.
Hardy’s development of Tess’ identity
In his bid to highlight the main themes in this novel, Thomas Hardy brings out the identity of Tess. There is an emphasis on the economic status of Tess from beginning of the story. Hardy informs us that Tess is from a poor family background (Hardy & Basset, 2008). We learn that she is obedient when she follows her parents’ instructions to go find fortune from her supposed relatives, the D’Urbevilles.
When she losses, the only source of income to the family, Tess takes up a job at the D’Urbevilles family estate so that she can take care of her family. This shows that she is responsible and caring. As a milkmaid, she identifies with her workmates and befriends them. This identity comes naturally because they share something, which is poverty.
Hardy uses situations revolving around gender to show the role of women in the 19th century. From the novel, men are dominant over women and have power over them. This dominance over women slowly shapes out the identity of Tess throughout this story (Silverman, 2002). Alec admits that his intention of sleeping with Tess was for momentary pleasure. Tess, on the other hand, does not have feelings for her at the time.
This situation brings out Tess’ character of being vulnerable. Alec takes advantage of this vulnerability and ends up making her pregnant. This happens again towards the end of the story as Alec lies to her that Angel will never come back for. She obliges and ends up living with him. Male dominance continues to the end of the story when male police officers arrest her even though she did not mean to kill Alec (Schmoop, 2007).
Thomas hardy clearly defines the boundary between different social classes within the novel. He informs us that people with royal blood are automatically wealthy. Tess was sent by her parents to the D’Urbevilles, who were royal, to claim her fortune. Change of social status is evident as Angel, who is from a royal family, ends up being a farmer, and marries a milkmaid. This put emphasis on her vulnerability.
In this novel, Hardy uses economic, gender and social class in the 19th century to highlight the identity of Tess and other characters. Today, these factors still define lives of people. Here in school, students tend to identify themselves with others based on some of these factors.
Students from a rich family background and a high social class tend to identify with one another. This may be because they can afford to hang out together e.g. going to expensive hang out joints. It is almost impossible to find a student from a poor family background hanging out with these rich students.
Hardy, T. & Basset J. (2008). Tess of the D’Urbervilles, London: Oxford University Press.
Shmoop, U. (2007, February 15). Tess of the D’Urbervilles Themes, Retrieved from
Silverman, K. (2002). History and Female Subjectivity in “Tess of the d’Urbervilles, North Carolina: Duke University Press.