What are the themes of the novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles?

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There are many themes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Here are a few worth considering:

  • Fate: The entire story is propelled by a random act of mischief when Parson Tringham tells Tess' father that he is descended from the noble d'Urberville family. This sets in motion a chain of...

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There are many themes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Here are a few worth considering:

  • Fate: The entire story is propelled by a random act of mischief when Parson Tringham tells Tess' father that he is descended from the noble d'Urberville family. This sets in motion a chain of events that eventually causes Tess to meet Alex.
  • Nobility: Much of the conflict of the novel has to do with the arbitrary nature of class distinctions in British society. "Nobility" is shown to be simply another commodity available for sale (Alex's family bought the title). On the other hand, Tess' innate nobility and her identity as a "pure woman", has little to do with wealth, and in the end causes her destruction.
  • Patriarchy: Tess is constantly victimized by men, beginning with her father, then continuing with Alex and Angel. The novel paints a bleak picture of how social norms limit Tess' personal agency.
  • Love: The novel also paints an ambiguous picture of what "love" might actually mean. The romantic love that Angel has for Tess is shown to be a kind of lie; neither Tess nor Angel really understand who the other truly is, and the suggestion is that such knowledge is impossible.
  • Justice: Tess' end forces the reader to consider if Alex's murder was justified, and if Tess' fate is one she truly deserved.
  • Appearance vs Reality: The novel constantly shows that reality for Tess is at odds with the social role she is meant to play. Her confession of her rape to Angel, and his reaction, is an example of how her appearance is at odds with her reality.

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