A new phase begins in Tess's life when she meets Alec again. His
pursuit as much as Angel's rejection determines the course her life now
takes. Is arbitrary coincidence at work in her stopping at just the
time and just the place where Alec is speaking? Is it coincidence that
she stands in the sun so that he notices her movement when she leaves?
Is their meeting again inevitable because life follows a pattern or
occurs in cycles? Or is it inevitable because her personal past with
Alec cannot be escaped in society?
PHASE THE SIXTH: THE CONVERT
The title of this section applies, ironically enough, to
both Alec and Angel. Due to the influence of a stranger (the Reverend
Clare), Alec undergoes a religious conversion and becomes a preacher.
Due to the influence of a stranger, Angel undergoes an intellectual and
emotional conversion which allows him to see Tess's purity and
innocence, and he returns to England and to Tess. Alec relapses to his
former sensual, womanizing self when he sees Tess. Does Angel also
relapse to at least some of his conventional narrow-mindedness when he sees Tess again?
The past repeats itself with Alec's pursuit of a fleeing Tess. Just as
he caught up with her when she left Chasborough, so he catches up with
her now. Then he accepted her leaving, with some reluctance. Why is he unable to let
her go when they meet again? Is it that her beauty has developed
distinction and depth as a result of her suffering? Does he want to
make up for having "grievously wronged" her, as he claims? Is this the
only reason why he proposes marriage? Or is his true sexual nature
asserting itself, breaking through his momentary religious enthusiasm?
Or is he moved by some combination of these possibilities?
of Tess as hunted prey becomes literal with Alec's pursuit of her. Time
and again he offers to take care of her and to provide for her family.
He seems genuinely distressed at times by the hardship of her time. An
increasingly pressured Tess continues to resist Alec. Angered when Alec
sneers at her husband, she strikes him with a heavy leather glove and
draws blood. Her anger and violence here foreshadow the ending; if they
are traits inherited from her d'Urberville ancestors, is she a victim
of the past and of circumstance? Tess immediately falls into the role
of victim and passive sufferer:
punish me!" she said, turning up her eyes to him with the hopeless
defiance of the sparrow's gaze before its captor twists its neck. "Whip
me, crush me; you need not mind those people under the rick! I shall
not cry out. Once victim, always victim–that's the law!" (page 336)
Does Tess seek death? Or is she in despair at the possibility of
falling again? This passage shows how helpless she has become since she
mercifully twisted the pheasants' necks. Now she is the hunted prey,
suffering the pheasants' agony, asking to have her neck twisted. Tess's
prospects or possibilities are narrowing, and life offers her no mercy.
The arbitrariness of life kills off her father and allows her mother to
recover. The death of her father acquires a grim meaning for his family
because of changes occurring in rural society. The lease to their home
expires with his death; historical changes are pushing the class to
which the Durbeyfields belong out of their homes and communities. So
circumstances are hostile to the Durbeyfields. Additionally, Marlott's
"respectable" members, who have a narrow code of sexual morality,
as a bad influence who should leave. Her mother's irresponsibility and
lack of foresight cause them to lose their cottage; she becomes angry
when advised that Tess should leave and announces her intention to
leave. These circumstances combine to force the Durbeyfields to leave
their home and Marlott. Tess feels responsible for their eviction and
deeply anxious over what will happen to the children. They become
literally homeless when the rooms they are moving to are unavailable;
Mrs. Durbeyfield did not confirm their rental soon enough. But it is
Tess whom she blames for their predicament.
Tess falls again to Alec.
Does she have a choice, or is she overwhelmed by the
hopelessness of her family's circumstances, her sense of responsibility
for the children, and her loss of faith in Angel's return? Are other
traits, like a tendency to self-sacrifice, operating? Has she ever had
a choice? Are there times when she does have a choice and her decisions
and actions are the result of her character? In answering these
questions, consider the ways Tess is economically, socially, and
sexually vulnerable, even powerless; how coincidence and historical
movements determine events; and the role which her personal past and
family past play in her life.
DISCUSSION OF TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES