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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 978

The following paper topics are based on the entire book. Following each topic is a thesis and sample outline. Use these as a starting point for your paper. Each major point in your essay should refer to at least one quote from the novel, properly introduced and explained.

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Topic #1
Hardy defines tragedy as “the worthy encompassed by the inevitable” and adds that the tragedies of immoral and worthless people are not of the best. Interpret Tess of the D’Urbervilles as a tragedy, using these ideas.

I. Thesis Statement: Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a tragedy because it depicts the destruction of a morally worthy person by inevitable and unalterable forces outside human control.

II. Tess Durbeyfield is continually depicted as innocent, conscientious, and morally pure
A. The novelist repeatedly uses words such as innocent and pure to describe Tess
B. Her thoughts are always to help her family, not herself
C. She is a creature of Nature
D. Tess is a morally pure woman, despite her actions
1. Hardy’s subtitle shows his evaluation of her
2. Both Angel and Alec accept Tess as pure
3. Tess’s actions of submitting to Alec and later killing him are motivated only by need and desperation
4. Tess shows more moral understanding than anyone else in the novel

III. Tess is brought down by a variety of forces which neither she nor anyone else would have been able to stop
A. Tess is victimized by people more powerful than she
B. The world is malignantly organized to deny human happiness
C. Historical and social forces render Tess vulnerable to exploitation

IV. Tess’s downfall is partially caused by what she cannot help, her ancestry as a D’Urberville
A. She has inherited a slight incautiousness of character from her family
B. She is being paid back for all the ways the ancient D’Urbervilles victimized others when they were powerful
C. The decline of the D’Urberville family is irreversible

V. Hardy depicts Tess’s downfall as one in a series of tragedies representative of human history
A. As Tess says, her life is just like that of thousands before and after her
B. References to classical and Shakespearean tragedy show Tess as related to other tragic victims

Topic #2
Analyze the role of religion and religious faith in the book. How are the characters motivated by their religious beliefs or doubts? What does Hardy wish to say about the practice of religion?

I. Thesis Statement: Thomas Hardy depicts the characters of Tess of the D’Urbervilles to suggest that moral purity is not necessarily related to religious orthodoxy.

II. The two most important and morally worthy characters experience religious doubts
A. Tess admits she does not know the Lord yet
1. She cannot accept that God would want her to feel so sinful
B. Angel goes through the religious doubts of his age

III. The best thing about Angel’s parents is their charity, not their Calvinist earnestness
A. Reverend Clare is warm-hearted
B. Mrs. Clare is able to sympathize with her son

IV. Tess’s moral purity is not related to her churchgoing
A.Tess is pure and innocent because of her innate nature and the strength of her conscience

V. Hardy presents several characters associated with religion in a harsh, satiric light
A. The parson is a man of little charity
B. Mercy Chant inadvertently becomes another victimizer of Tess
C. Reverend Cuthbert and Felix Clare are limited people
D. Alec’s conversion shows that even the sinful can appear to be religious

Topic #3
Show how Hardy’s descriptions of landscapes and the environment convey his idea of the centrality of Nature to human life.

I. Thesis Statement: To Thomas Hardy, Nature is an ever-present aspect of life.

II. The happenings at Talbothays are an outgrowth of the fertile natural environment
A. Descriptions of weather and growth are linked to Tess’s courtship

III. Every Phase of the novel contains references to natural landscapes and natural facts
A. Phase the Second contains a scene of reaping wheat
B. Tess must walk 15 cold and muddy miles back from Emminster to Flintcomb Ash without her boots
C. Flintcomb Ash is desolate and barren

IV. Tess is a field woman, pure and simple
A. She is most happy when doing outdoor work

V. Hardy’s metaphors frequently rely on natural elements
A. When Tess is upset, the sky looks like a wound
B. Tess’s situation is paralleled to that of dying pheasants

Topic #4
The one key factor in Tess’s downfall is her gender. Her tragedy is a woman’s tragedy.

I. Thesis Statement: Tess’s tragedy is a direct result of the lack of social and personal opportunities afforded to women in a male-dominated country.

II. She has internalized the lack of self-esteem forced upon women
A. She speaks of wishing to die
B. She speaks of the shame of ever having been born
C. She is excessively deferential to Clare. She wishes to think of him as her lord and master and even to die for him
D. She internally accepts that she is guilty for having committed the same action as did Clare

III. Tess is continually victimized by men who assume they have the right to control or judge her
A. The powerful Alec is able to have his way with her
B. Angel punishes her because he fails to see the reality of who Tess is
C. Minor characters such as the parson and Farmer Groby harass Tess

IV. As a poor peasant woman, Tess has few opportunities to make a living and explore the world
A. Her lack of education cuts off her knowledge of other opportunities in the world
B. She must implore men like Alec and Angel to be her protector
C. Her family exploits her to help out their finances

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Critical Evaluation