Villains in Tess of the D’urberviiles

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Hardy presents villains in Tess of the D’Urbervilles not only through the physical description and actions of characters; such as Alec D’Urberville, the man who triggers the series of events that cause Tess’s downfall. But also, through the oppressive societal views that become the underlying antagonist in Tess’s life, echoing Hardy’s criticism of inequality through gender and maltreatment of faith.

The idea of antagonism is first presented in ‘phase the first, chapter five’ where the reader and Tess is first introduced to Alec D’Urberville, primarily the embodiment of villain behavior and what ultimately causes Tess’s life to fall to the ill fate. He is described as having a “swarthy complexion” and “full lips, badly moulded, though red and smooth” The adjective ‘swarthy’ shows his dark complexion, a clear contrast to Tess who is surrounded by the modest white, creating a contrast between light and dark, good and evil. His lips are also described as being ‘badly moulded’ possibly a mirrored image of his character and how he changes his actions to easily influence Tess to abide to his command and manipulate her; As well as showing how undignified and deceptive the character of Alec truly is, yet as it is ‘badly’ moulded we are able to see the falseness he presents no matter how many times he tries to change the mold in order to fit in as a chivalrous member of the higher class.

The color symbolism of ‘red’ depicts danger and aggression representing the peril that will be placed upon Tess whilst she works for his mother and foreshadows the action that leads Tess to her inevitable downfall. In addition to this, it is also symbolic of the determination and passion that Alec has in order to seduce Tess so she will become his lover. This is echoed by the slopes, the mansion where Alec lives, that is described as being the “same rich crimson colour” and “red geranium” highlighting that evil and danger itself surrounds Alec; and will allow him to keep Tess under his control through the desirability for her love.

Alec comes from the family of the “Stoke D’Urbervilles” had been purchased by his father, symbolizing the split character of his family, along with the deception of the name and a Alec as well; creating a façade to hide the real villain that he is and shows Hardy’s criticism that high class titles and origins are much simpler than their claim to grandeur. As well as the fact, that high class families believed they had moral and social power over the other classes due to a title that has no significant power or origin. Alec’s name may be a reference to Alexander the Great, who seizes what he wanted regardless of his moral propriety due to his powerful title ‘the Great’; much like the Victorian higher class who believed their title could give them superiority over the other classes.

The first part of his name ‘stoke’, the verb having connotations of igniting a furnace, could show his burning sexual desire for Tess and will eventually become dangerous as we find out he robs her of her innocence at The Chase and yet continues to control her in order to signify that he still has power over her. “she sat now, like a puppet”; Additionally, presenting Hardy’s criticism of the submissive nature that Victorian women were expected to have. Tess, as a woman, could do nothing more than use harsh words to discourage Alec’s behavior, and had to bear it will ill grace as Alec would continue to control her and ‘master’ her. Showing how Alec has ignited her damnation and foreshadows the danger that is to come. Alternatively, ‘stoking’ creates associations with fiery energies and could alternatively have links to the biblical imagery of hell. Linking to religion at the time of the Victorian era, in which many if not all Victorians were Christian, and the church of England was the most powerful it had ever been nearing the end of the century. Allowing the links to pastoral imagery to show the Victorian audience to see Alec’s devilish qualities, reinforcing how he is morally and physically evil and how he has used it to exploit Tess due to him being of higher power socially and morally. Like the devil, Alec is symbolic of the forces of life that push a person away from moral perfection and greatness.

The idea of Alec having devilish qualities and biblical imagery is also presented when Hardy states that the “Serpent hisses where the sweet bird sings.” this could be a reference to the garden of Eden and how the snake, Alec, tempting Eve, Tess, to her fall. The noun ‘serpent’ can represent death and destruction, as serpents are predatorial creatures portraying Alec’s deadly behavior and how he will disguise himself in the innocence of Tess, waiting to inflict sin onto Tess’s life, much like Satan in the garden of Eden. Alternatively, it could be suggested that snakes have a split tongue, showing that Alec uses both of his split qualities to manipulate Tess into staying by his side much like his dual barreled name that is also a representation of his split character.

The ‘sweet bird’ is a metaphor for Tess’s innocence and ignorant bliss presenting how her lack of worldly knowledge causes her to be enticed by the ‘serpent’ and to be caged within the harsh treatment of Alec and the world; linking to the context of Victorian literature and the idea that women were ‘caged birds’ that could not escape from the oppressive and restrictive views that people had on women during the eighteenth century, giving them lack of freedom and becoming pets to a world that couldn’t see women as more than housewives and mothers. Once again, painting Hardy’s criticism that women were expected to be compliant to men and abide to their demands. It may also suggest that Tess has learnt that only danger can arise when the natural world, such as the Vale of Blackmore ‘fertile and sheltered’, mixes with the modern world, The slopes ‘ A recent erection’ made of ‘money’ and due to her lack of worldly knowledge could only learn this through experience herself.

This biblical imagery poses the argument, that the real underlying villain within Tess of the d’Urbervilles is the views of the Victorian Christian society and their insensitivity to Tess and her family. This point is apparent through the character of Parson Tringham, whose poor judgement is what makes John Durbeyfield believe that he is of high importance. Parson Tringham admits to John that telling him his family’s history is an example of when “our impulses are too strong for our judgement” although he tells John that the information is useless as the D’Urberville family is ‘extinct’ it is already too late. Tringham has already set in motion the horrific events that causes Tess to be assaulted by Alec. His insensitivity to his parishioners is the first of many that is presented by the church within the first phases of the novel.

This same insensitivity is displayed in ‘Phase the second: maiden no more’ where Tess encounters an artisan that works for the “glory of God” who carries a “pot of red paint” the symbolism of ‘red’ already suggesting that there is danger in religion if put in the hands of the wrong person and the destruction of faith. Hardy describes the painted verses as “hideous defacements- the last grotesque phase of a creed which had served mankind well in its time” and that the rural landscape that he had painted the red letters on had become “distressed”. This could suggest that the morals of man have destroyed the natural landscape and has defiled it beauty by destroying the compassionate views of agriculture that had ‘served mankind well’ and replaced it with messages that crush the human spirit. This shows Hardy’s criticism that the Christian views and the insensitivity of the church is essentially a destructive force in the Victorian era, not only for the people but the natural world as well.

This is also reinforced when Tess tells the artisan that the messages are “crushing! Killing!”, referring to the loss of Hardy’s faith and his views of the antagonistic behavior of the church, in which the artisan replies “That’s what they’re meant to be!” this shows the oppressive nature of the church and how mankind is full of potential sinners who must be frightened into submission; much like Tess and how she was scared into following Alec’s demanding nature. Presenting the idea further that Alec’s devilish qualities are manipulated by a higher power, whether that be the higher class or in fact God.



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