What is Sophy's character sketch in "The Son's Veto" by Thomas Hardy?

Quick answer:

A good woman is depicted through the metaphor of woven hair and contrasted with the two men in her life who use her for their own ends.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sophy is presented as an intricate, worthy character through the metaphor of her beautiful woven hair. One lack she may have as a character is a low emotional level: she doesn't seem to get very emotional about life's normal events. When she accepts Sam's proposal in her youth, she comments...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

to Vicar Twycott that she isn't all that enthused about her engagement to marry:

'Well--do you want to marry?'
'Not much. But it would be a home for me.

The narrator expresses that she has a similar level of emotional reaction when she sees Sam for the first time after being widowed. The narrator tells us that while she had thought of Sam from time to time over the course of the years, she had not thought of him with deep emotion; she just wondered if she might have been happier had she patched up their quarrel and married Sam after all.

She had occasionally thought of [Sam], ....  She had not thought of him passionately, ...

The one real negative trait we learn of is that while she is virtuous, it seems that once her good opinion is lost, it remains lost. It seems this is why she never tries to mend her quarrel with Sam (or maybe the quarrel was of such a nature that it could not be mended or patched up, which then elevates her character rather than lowering it).

One thing Sophy certainly is not, she is not the bearer of the responsibility for her own life's sorrow. At all points, the narrator paints Sophy as being true to her name: Sophy means wisdom. She makes a good choice to marry based on her best information and her circumstances. There is never any indication that she is materially unhappy or displeased with her husband. Her sorrow is that she embarrasses her gentleman son with her village ways.

Through Sophy's characterization and name symbolism, the narrator makes it clear that Vicar Twycott and Randolph are the responsible parties for Sophy's misery: Twy-cott means two with hard hearts.

she seemed to be pining her heart away. 'Why mayn't I say to Sam that I'll marry him? Why mayn't I?' she would murmur plaintively to herself ...

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How is Sophy described in the introduction of "The Son's Veto" by Thomas Hardy?

Hardy's introductory description of Sophy at the open-air park concert is in some ways simple yet, in other ways, complex. Some of the simple elements of Hardy's description are the details about her hairstyle and about dressing her own hair as she had no lady's maid. These details also turned to a complex use as her hair may be seen as symbolic of her life. Her life, on the one hand, consists of dissimilar elements woven deftly together and, on the other hand, a series of twists (like to her ankle) rendering results that are less than desirable, for example, the sad twists that result in her funeral procession--presided over by heartless Randolph--that passes a tearful lonely Sam Hobson with hat in hand.

Another simple element of Sophy's description is that Hardy does not detail her features. Apart from the intricacies of her "nut-brown hair ... [u]nder the black beaver hat, [with a] tuft of black feathers," we are told her eye color, which are "soft, brown, and affectionate orbs." Other descriptive details are given in vague terms [a technique most great writers use for main characters, especially in short stories], like: "not so handsome"; "less young"; "Yet attractive"; and "not at all sickly."

the white ear and poll, and the curve of a cheek which was neither flaccid nor sallow, were signals that led to the expectation of good beauty in front. Such expectations are not infrequently disappointed

Another complex element of Hardy's description of Sophy is that we are given indirect information about her personality and temperament through other people's reactions to her as they walk by and study her. One, they are pleasantly intrigued enough by her to want to know more of her. Two, they elicit a response from her; she responds with unflinching openness. Three, we know enough about her to admire her, like her, and feel sympathetically toward her when her son shortly after chastises her and humiliates her with arrogant superiority.

Hardy sets up the theme and meaning of the story through our initial introduction to Sophy. He shows that she has courage and optimism, "it was almost the only accomplishment she could boast of. Hence the unstinted pains"; she is cheerful and charitable, "a concert ... was the effort of a local association to raise money for some charity"; she is affectionate and open, "each time she turned to talk to a boy ... who stood beside her," "she met the eyes of several of her observers by lifting her own." Hardy uses simplicity and complexity to reveal a young woman in less than optimal circumstances who is lovely inside and out, yet not as beautifully lovely as might be, implying the reality of life rather than the dream of the ideal.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Sophy's character depict the telling moments in her life in "The Son's Veto" by Thomas Hardy?

The correct way to ask this question is "How does Hardy depict ..." or "How does Sophy represent ..." the telling moments in Sophy's life. "Depict" means to draw, describe, delineate. These are functions reserved for the author and for the narrator that are not applicable to a character. Since there are subtle differences between the answers to these two questions, I'll explain how Sophy represents the telling moments in her life.

During the telling moments of Sophy's life--e.g., her rejection of Sam's affection on the evening of the death of the vicar's wife; her request to return to the vicar's employment; her decision to follow her son's "veto" instructions; her pitiful loss of her relationship with Sam--Sophy represents these by insisting upon doing what is right.

When Sam wants to kiss her in her parents' garden, she rebuffs him because it was not morally right to think of love immediately after a death. When She asks the vicar if she can continue in his service, she says the reason is that she and Sam had a quarrel. We don't know the nature of the quarrel, but since Sophy is neither bitter nor downcast, we can conclude that it was a quarrel over a point of honor or morality and that she insisted upon doing what was right. The same applies to the other two incidents listed above: Sophy acts as she does because she is convinced that it is the morally right thing to do.

One of the themes Hardy pursues throughout his corpus of work is the disadvantage women have in doing what appears to be right to them (sometimes this is a collective knowledge of what is morrally right, as in Sophy's case; sometimes this is an individual knowledge of what is right for the woman, as in Jude the Obscure). Thus Hardy shows the terrible disadvantages Sophy suffers from in the course of and as a result of doing what was socially morally right.

Her lameness became more confirmed as time went on, and she seldom or never left the house in the long southern thoroughfare, where she seemed to be pining her heart away. 'Why mayn't I say to Sam that I'll marry him? Why mayn't I?' she would murmur plaintively to herself when nobody was near.

Last Updated on