Tess - Fatalism


If written today, Tess of the d'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy may have been called Just Call Me Job or Tess: Victim of Fate. Throughout this often bleak novel, the reader is forced by Tess's circumstance to sympathize with the heroine (for lack of a better term) as life deals her blow after horrifying blow. One of the reasons that the reader is able to do so may be the fatalistic approach Hardy has taken with the life of the main character. Hardy writes Tess as a victim of Fate. This allows the reader to not blame her for the things that happen around her. Much of the critical debate surrounding Tess centers around this very point: Is Tess a victim? Are the things that happen to Tess beyond her control or could she have fought her way out of her circumstances? Better yet, could Hardy have written her out of her troubles or did his fatalistic approach to the novel force him to ultimately sacrifice poor Tess? Further, Is Hardy's approach to the novel and its main character truly fatalistic? In this essay, I will explore these questions and the doctrine of Fatalism as it applies to Tess. Fatalism is defined in Websters Dictionary as "the doctrine that all things take place by inevitable necessity" (175). Fatalism is the idea that all actions are controlled by Fate, a primitive force that exists independent of human wills and outside of the controls of power of a supreme being such as God because God ultimately has no power; he is a creation of man who granted Him His power. Since He doesn't truly possess those powers, he is left without the ability to alter circumstances. In short, if one subscribes to this doctrine, you believe that Fate controls how things happen and God can do nothing to save you, even Tess. Overall, Tess seems to go through life experiencing one negative event after another. Fateful incidents, overheard conversations and undelivered letters work against her ability to control the path her life takes. Tess's future seems locked up from the beginning of the novel. As the story opens, we first meet her father and learn of Tess's ancestry: "Durbeyfield...are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d'Urbervilles...that renowned knight who came from Normandy...if knighthood were hereditary, like a baronetcy...[John] would be Sir John" (4). Somehow the reader knows almost immediately that this knowledge isn't necessarily going to save the poor clan, especially once we learn of the Fate of Tess's ancestors: "Where do we d'Urbervilles live?" asks "Sir" John to the parson who responds, "You don't live anywhere. You are extinct" (5). If one believes in the concept of natural selection, they probably realize rather quickly that this isn't the best family from which to descend. Tess seems to sense her doomed state. This is evidenced in her identification with the d'Urberville clan. Examples of this are her ability to see or hear the d'Urberville Coach and her realization of her resemblance to the d'Urberville woman of the farmhouse at Wellbridge: "[Tess's] fine features were unquestionably traceable in these exaggerated forms" (277). These eerie events suggest that the fated d'Urberville blood undoubtedly flows through her veins. Another example of Tess's awareness of being ill fated is when she meets Alec. Tess laments about her fate: "Had she perceived this meeting's import she might have asked why she was doomed to be seen and converted that day by the wrong man, and not by some other man, the right and desired one in all respects (75). She may not have known what to call it, but she definitely applies the doctrine of Fatalism to herself which according to author Leonard Doob is a telltale sign of a person who feels fated: "When the principal is judging himself [in this case, herself] and believes that fate is affecting him, his perception is usually direct: he introspects, thinks, or meditates. But he may respond indirectly when someone else, an observer,, gives him information about himself...Fatalism by a principal, therefore, is a pessimistic inevitability doctrine applied by him about himself to himself" (7). If Tess didn't start life feeling as though Fate was working against her, there are plenty of incidents which could easily convince her: the death of the family horse because of her negligence, the