What is the meaning of the recurring symbol of herons in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, besides The Heron Inn?Besides The Heron inn in which Tess kills Alec, is there any further meaning behind this...

What is the meaning of the recurring symbol of herons in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, besides The Heron Inn?

Besides The Heron inn in which Tess kills Alec, is there any further meaning behind this symbolism?

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Asked on by kthackery

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the motifs of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles is the circularity of life with nature's ruling presence.  As part of the dominating presence of nature and the recurring cycle of life, the herons symbolize the spirit of this omniscient presence.  With Darwinian determinism the circles of life over which Tess has no control recur throughout Hardy's novel.  In Chapter XX, for instance, Hardy opens his chapter with reference to Spring and the resumption of the cycle of nature.  On the dairy farm, Tess and Clare meet often.  One day they

studied each other, ever balanced on the edge of a passion.  All the while they were converging, under an irresistible law as surely as two streams in one vale.

Mirroring the actions of creatures of nature, Tess and Clare are living lives as determined as their fellow creatures. As they enjoy a romantic walk, the herons act as a symbolic reminder that Tess and Clare, also, are subject to the 
"irresistible law" of the circularity of life:

At these non-human hours they could get quite close to the waterfowl.  Herons came, with a great bold noise as of opening doors and shutters, out of the boughs of a plantation which they frequented at the side of the mead; or, if already on the spot, hardily maintained their standing in the water as the pair walked by, watching them by moving their heads round in a slow, horizontal, passionless wheel, like the turn of puppets by clockwork.

Thus, as the irresistible circularity of life, the herons also symbolize the Darwinian determinism of life as well as Hardy's characteristic fatalism as Tess is often identified as a captured bird.

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