The theme of Tess of the D'Urbervilles is "human predicament." Please explain.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Although not as depressing as the heartwarming and joyful Jude the Obscure (excuse the British sarcasm there), this novel certainly should win its own award for being a depressing read. It is hard not to plough through the novel and not be struck by the repeated way in which fate is incredibly harsh with Tess and her family. Even though Tess killed Prince unintentionally, she is harshly punished for it, just as her rape is also something else that leads to her punishment. The novel doesn't even seem to offer much hope of there being any form of justice in the afterlife either. The way in which setting plays such an important role in the novel, especially when Tess falls asleep on the altar of Stonehenge, the sight of pre-Christian, pagan practices, suggests that what is most important in this novel isn't Christian justice but pagan justice. This novel suggests, again and again, that the forces that have power over us are completely capricious and at best indifferent to us, and at worst openly opposed against us. This is most clearly shown in the final concluding statement of the novel:

“Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess. And the d’Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing. The two speechless gazers bent themselves down to the earth, as if in prayer, and remained there a long time, absolutely motionless: the flag continued to wave silently. As soon as they had strength they arose, joined hands again, and went on.

Note the way that the quotation marks surrounding the word "justice" indicate the irony of this word, as really, justice in this novel has actually been the various gods having their "sport" with Tess. Thus the human predicament is presented as being grim and unyielding. We are here to be playthings of the gods, to amuse them until we die.

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