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Tess Of The D'urbervilles And Pride And Prejudice

1596 words - 7 pages

How do Hardy and Austen use their protagonists to critique the position of women in society?

In both novels society is presented as an underlying constraint on both of the protagonists lives. Beth Hanson wrote, “A woman can move only downwards” and that “feminine compliance, through the surrender of self is death of a different sort, for to be selfless is not only to be noble, it is to be dead”. This outlook on societal pressures ultimately leads to Tess’ demise in ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ as she falls from the ideal image of a women in the Victorian era and her “selfless” acts does in fact end in her death. Hardy presents ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ as a bildungsroman where we see ...view middle of the document...

The colour “red” echoes the idea that Tess is different from all the other “maidens” and juxtaposes the white in a battle of lost innocence versus purity. The colour “red” also symbolises lust, blood, anger, and passion which all foreshadow chapters in Tess’ life. The all-innocent “girl” is portrayed by the reader as someone who is not completely pure in the eyes of society. A critic mirrors this idea; “Her fatalism, her apparent acceptance, her dumb, almost animal endurance make her seem like a victim”. Tess’ acceptance of her own fate throughout the novel makes the reader feel sympathetic towards the protagonist but also portrays Tess as someone who allows society to shape her and “even though her fate is heart-breaking, in an important sense she is not the victim”. This suggests that Tess is not aligned with the rest of the “white company” which Victorian society demands of her, and fate will punish her in due course.

Tess throughout the novel is constantly depicted by society as the ‘sinner’. The fifth phase, “The woman pays” symbolises the gender inequality within the Victorian era as the woman is punished in most circumstances, not the man. Despite Tess being the victim of a rape by the devilish Alec, she is still considered not to be innocent in Angel’s eyes after she has pleaded for his forgiveness. Angel’s hypocrisy in not forgiving Tess when he himself is not as innocent and benevolent as his own name, shows the one sided nature of the two sexes in society and even Angel a man that has defied the ‘norm’ by marrying down the social class, still has societal dictations embedded in his persona, in the quote “Shall I ever neglect her, or hurt her, or even forget to consider her?” symbolising his inner conflict between love and reputation and also how women were thought of in Victorian society: that once married, they were completely attached and dependant on their husband. Charles Petrie explains, “Innocence was what he demanded from the girls of his class” suggesting how even before women were married there was still expectations to fulfil. This importance of class in society is also presented in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ through the relationship between Elizabeth, the female protagonist, and Mr Darcy. “His sense of her inferiority- of it being a degradation” shows that despite his love for her he is still bound by societal conventions as marrying below his class would be looked down upon. This mirrors how Angel’s mother objects to the idea of Tess as a daughter in law in the phrase “O Angel, you are mocking!” suggesting how she is surprised for her son to not marry the “accomplished” Mercy Chant. Angel’s mother sees in Tess the beginning of the fall of the great Victorian era of opulence and high society as to them marriage is not about love, but rather social, financial, and religious prosperity. Tess’ denial to Angel’s marriage request in “The Rally” seems to signify that Tess is even more virtuous than he thought which highlights the...

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