What is Hardy's tragic and ironic vision in "Tess of the d'Urbervilles"?

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As with any great author, it's hard to identify a single point or theme that is expressive of Hardy's overall vision. I would focus, however, on the "randomness" of the way the universe operates upon human life as one of the chief themes of all his major work.

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As with any great author, it's hard to identify a single point or theme that is expressive of Hardy's overall vision. I would focus, however, on the "randomness" of the way the universe operates upon human life as one of the chief themes of all his major work.

Tess is sent to meet the supposedly refined cousin, and the result is that she is raped. When she later finds a man whom she loves, things go wrong because, by chance, Angel does not see the letter she has written to him before the marriage. He then directs the double-standard accusation against her when, after he has admitted to a previous relationship, she thinks that telling him about Alec will not have negative consequences.

This last development and the story as a whole show that Hardy, like other 19th-century writers, depicts a situation in which a woman is victimized by the standards of the time. Another obvious instance is that of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. It is open to debate whether either of those writers intended to criticize the system, or if they were simply reporting it as the tragic and, again, randomly unfair way the world is. In any event, the result for Tess, as for Anna, is unhappiness and death.

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Thomas Hardy was a fatalist. He believed that human life is out of the direct control of the human being. Every devastating or fortunate event that occurs is merely the result of fate. In "Tess of the d'Urbervilles", that tragic lack of hope is manifested in the guilt of a young rape victim. Tess feels immense guilt despite her inability to control what happens to her. The immense irony is that, while she feels guilt about being raped, she feels no guilt when she murders her rapist. This irony causes the reader to question the idea of justice. What is justifiable? What can we control? What is the purpose of guilt?

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