The Woodlanders

by Thomas Hardy
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What are the main themes of The Woodlanders?

The main themes of The Woodlanders are patriarchy and love. It is the patriarchal nature of society that dictates that Grace's father has a say in who she marries. The theme of love is displayed in the growing affection between Grace and Giles.

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I would argue that the main themes of The Woodlanders are patriarchy and love.

Patriarchy can be observed from early on in the novel when we learn that Grace Melbury has been offered to Giles Winterborne in marriage, as her father's way of compensating for having wronged Giles's father years earlier. It is apparent that Grace is to have little to no say in this matter, and that she is resigned to her fate. However, her father changes her mind when Giles loses his houses, and this is when Grace's future husband, Edgar Fitzpiers, enters the picture. Edgar soon asks for Grace's hand, and her father encourages her to accept him. Being a young woman in a society led by men, she accepts, despite the growing feelings she actually has for Giles. The fact that her father has to be the one to attempt to make arrangements for her divorce speaks of the patriarchal nature of the society in which this novel is set.

The other theme is love, a love that slowly develops between Grace and Giles. While she initially felt nothing for him, she has found some real affection for him by the time he loses his houses and her father decides that they should not marry. While Edgar turns out to be a drunkard and a cheat, Giles and Grace become closer and closer, while remaining honorable and ensuring that nothing untoward happens between the two. In a tragic twist, Grace comes upon Giles's hut while trying to get away from Edgar and Giles, who is gravely ill, sleeps outside to protect Grace's honor. Giles dies in Grace's arms soon after, and the two could not have loved each other more by this point.

The theme of love is reinforced later when Edgar realizes that he actually loves his wife, and saves her from a trap set for him which almost caught her. He vows to be a faithful husband, but even as she tries to make the marriage work, her heart always seems to belong to Giles.

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