Discuss the part played by chance and fate in Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Ubervilles.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Chance plays a big role in the story of Tess. In the first chapter, Tess’s father, John Durbeyfield, has a chance meeting with Parson Tringham in the road. The parson, as a joke, addresses him as “Sir John” and explains to him that he has discovered that the Durbeyfields are...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Chance plays a big role in the story of Tess. In the first chapter, Tess’s father, John Durbeyfield, has a chance meeting with Parson Tringham in the road. The parson, as a joke, addresses him as “Sir John” and explains to him that he has discovered that the Durbeyfields are descended from an ancient noble line, the d’Urbervilles. This information is what eventually causes Tess to be sent to visit a nearby family of supposed relatives, the Stoke-d’Urbervilles. It’s here that she meets Alec. Everything that happens to Tess in the novel can be traced back to this encounter.

Fate is a more problematic concept. While it is possible to see what happens to Tess as “fate,” or the inevitable result of someone straying out of her social class, I think Hardy’s view of such things is more complex. Hardy’s characters are memorable because they do struggle to make the right choices; Tess, for all her faults, struggles to assert her personal agency in the novel. Her decision to murder Alec and her resulting execution, in this way, can be seen less as the workings of fate and more as her attempt to make her own future.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The notions of chance and fate are inexplicable in universe by mere humans. Thomas Hardy portrays both universal elements as mean and hateful as they throw incredible obstacles in the way of Tess's happiness in Tess of the d'Ubervilles. Chance and fate seem to tease Tess with obtaining happiness with benevolent opportunities for her to help herself and her family emerge from a lower class system in England, but something always gets in the way so that she cannot truly be happy. Here are a few examples of circumstances that Tess cannot control, thereby being under fate's will: First, she is born to parents who are unreliable and superstitious. (Her mother consults the "Fortune Teller" book to find out if Tess should marry a gentleman.) Then, as Tess is trying to do her father's job, their only horse dies and she blames herself. If the horse hadn't died, then she never would have gone to Alec d'Uberville's for help. Fate also tempts Tess as she seeks happiness with Angel Claire, but then takes it away after she tries to resolve her past before she marries him (e.g. slipping a confessional note under his bedroom door that he never gets). Ultimately, Tess is pushed over the edge of Fate's joke and kills Alec in order to be with Angel once and for all. Sadly, it never works out for her.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team