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Tess Essay, Research Paper
The novel begins with John Durbeyfield, the poor and lazy father
of Tess, walking towards his home in Marlott. He is greeted by the
elderly parson Trigham and is addressed as “Sir John”. He is very
excited to learn from the parson that his ancestors came from the
elite family of D’Urbervilles. He takes this revelation seriously,
ignoring the information that the family no longer has fame or
wealth, and demands to be called Sir. Feeling aristocratic, John
also orders a carriage to take him home.
The first chapter introduces the readers to John, a poor, lazy
peddler who begins to act crazily when he learns that he is
descended from an elite family. Hardy foreshadows, in this
opening chapter, that things will change for the Durbeyfields (to
whom Tess belongs) as a result of the D’Urbervilles (to whom Alec
belongs). Unfortunately, the change is not a positive one as John
expects, but a tragic one that destroys the life of an innocent young
Hardy, in depicting John’s behavior in this chapter, is poking fun at
human beings who hear what they want to hear and act crazily
when they try to be something that they really are not.
In the village of Marlott, preparations are being made for the May-
Day Dance, which is about to begin. Every girl in this dance is to
wear a white dress and carry a peeled willow wand in her right
hand and a bunch of white flowers in her left hand. John’s
daughter, Tess, is a participant in the dance. Angel Clare, who
comes to the dance as he passes through the village with his two
brothers, regrets that he has not chosen Tess, who is quite pretty, as
his dancing partner. He also notices that she is watching him.
In this chapter, Hardy depicts the simple pleasure of country life at
the May-Day Dance. All of the young ladies have dressed in white
and carry willow wands and white flowers, a picture of purity. But
there seems to be a longing for something more. They want to
appear more elegant than their poor working class background
permits (just as John has wanted to be something more aristocratic
than a peddler). Each of the girls is also attracted to Angel Clare,
who is obviously of a higher class and whose manners are much
better than those of the Marlott boys. When Angel dances with one
of the girls, all of the others envy her, including Tess. In fact, she
experiences her first pangs of heartache due to Angel. This simple
heartache foreshadows the true heartbreak that Tess will feel later
when Angel deserts her.
This chapter has Tess rushing back home to check on her father
after having seen his earlier peculiar behavior. She learns from her
mother, Joan that her father’s odd behavior is because of the
D’Urberville connection and not due to excessive drinking. Her
mother also tells Tess that her father has just learned he has a
problem with his heart, and has gone to Rolliver’s Inn to gather
strength from drinking. Tess is upset that her mother has let him go
and offers to go and bring him home. Joan says she wants to go out
and will fetch John from the Inn. Tess is left to watch after her
younger brothers and sisters. She also thinks about Angel Clare,
the suave young man at the dance. When it grows late and her
parents fail to return, she goes out to find them.
The readers are further introduced to the Durbeyfields. They are
obviously a poor family lacking many basic amenities of life. The
father is not very responsible, choosing to call a carriage in order
to feel aristocratic and going to the Inn to gain strength from
drinking. The mother is not much more intelligent or responsible.
She is superstitious and often consults her fortune-telling book.
She also goes to retrieve her husband and obviously stays at the
Inn to drink with him. In contrast to her irresponsible parents, Tess
is portrayed as loyal (standing up for her father even when she is
embarrassed by him and rushing home after the dance to check on
him), concerned (that her father is at the Inn drinking), and
responsible (she offers to go and retrieve her father from the Inn,
stays behind to baby-sit her siblings, and finally goes to bring both
her mother and father home).
It is important to note that this entire chapter, set in the dark,
somber house, is a complete contrast to the previous chapter where
all is white, bright, gay, and elegant as the young ladies dance at
the May-Day Dance. Throughout the book, Hardy will use such
contrasts to develop his plot, mood, and theme.
Joan refers to the “complete fortune teller” and is delighted to
discover that Tess’s future lies with nobility. She reveals this
information to her husband when she joins him at Rolliver’s Inn.
She also tells him of her eagerness to send Tess to Trantridge,
where their distant relations stay. Joan believes that Tess will be
accepted into their family, a situation, which would brighten her
matrimonial prospects. Abraham, Tess’s younger brother,
overhears his parent’s conversation and reveals it to his sister.
Little Abraham, who is fascinated with stars, feels that if Tess
marries and becomes rich, he may some day own a spy-glass to
draw the stars nearer.
Since her father is in ill health and not doing well after his drinking
at Rolliver’s, Tess and Abraham leave early the next day to deliver
the beehives to Casterbridge. On the way, their wagon is involved
in an accident, and Prince, their horse, is killed. Tess blames
herself for the terrible loss. A farmer takes the children on to the
market and then delivers the dead Prince to Marlott. John refuses
to sell the dead horse and works harder in burying him than he has
worked in months.
In this chapter, Tess is again pictured as the responsible member of
the Durbeyfield family. Knowing that her father does not feel like
delivering the beehives, she volunteers to go herself. Since she is
leaving very early in the morning in order to accomplish her task,
she wisely and responsibly takes Abraham with her for company.
When Prince is killed in the accident, she blames herself much
more harshly than her parents blame her; but she is really the only
one who understands that the loss of the horse means a great
interruption to the family and a loss of future income. Tess is also
the only one who is not intrigued with the idea of her marrying a
wealthy gentleman. Her parents view it as a way to end their
poverty and misery. To Abraham, a wealthy marriage for Tess
might mean a spyglass for him, a way to draw the stars nearer. But
Tess is not a dreamer; instead, she is firmly rooted in the realities
and concerns of the present. She knows her mother lives in an
imaginary world of fortune-telling and her father drinks too much,
works too little, and makes irrational decisions like the one to rent
a carriage to take him home in Chapter 1 and the one to bury
Prince rather than selling his body for cash that is much needed by
the family. If the family is to survive the present, Tess must not
dream about her future, but take care of the family’s current needs.
Initially, Tess is too proud to go to her distant relatives to seek
help, but the misfortune that she has brought to the family by her
negligence with the horse has to be atoned. With little choice left,
she reluctantly goes to see Mrs. D’Urberville. Upon arriving, she
meets the wayward son, Alec D’Urberville, instead of his mother,
who she learns is an invalid. Tess tells Alec about the unfortunate
situation with the horse, and he promises to help her. It is obvious
that Alec is impressed and bewitched by this beautiful, young
country girl. He fills her basket with strawberries and gives her
flowers. Tess, feeling uneasy about Alec, quickly departs for
The readers are again shown Tess’s innocence and her sense of
responsibility. She accepts the fact that she must go to see the
D’Urbervilles, even though she does not want to do it. When she
arrives, Alec greets her. Tess is so naive that she has no
understanding of the havoc her beauty is playing on Alec. He is
totally smitten by her loveliness and country charm. His
unwarranted attention puzzles Tess. Alec’s intentions, however, are
very obvious to the reader as Hardy begins to develop his
On her way home, Tess takes a van. She becomes the center of
attraction with her flowers and berries. When she arrives home, she
finds that a letter has already come from Mrs. D’Urberville,
offering her a job. Surprised by the quickness of the offer, she is a
bit suspicious of it, especially since the handwriting in the letter is
very masculine in appearance. As an alternative to this offer of
tending fowls for the D’Urbervilles, Tess looks for a job in Marlott
and finds there is nothing available. As a result, she decides to go
to Trantridge so she can earn enough money to pay for a new
Enthralled with Tess, Alec does not waste time in making her an
offer of employment in Trantridge. He sends a letter to her about
the job and signs it as his mother. Tess feels uneasy about the
offer, but the rest of her family rejoices at the good news. They are
all delighted that Tess has favorably impressed their wealthy
kinsfolk and believes that Tess’s employment will relieve them of
their impoverishment. A naive Joan foresees a wedding between
Alec and her daughter; but passion, not marriage is on Alec’s mind.
On the day of her departure, Tess dresses in her best clothes at the
insistence of her mother, who is still dreaming about her daughter
marrying Alec. Joan is delighted with Tess’s appearance and feels
confident that it will be difficult for Alec to ignore her beauty.
Tess’s younger brothers and sisters are jubilant about the thought
of their sister marrying a gentleman. When Tess is ready to leave,
Joan begins to worry about sending her daughter away. She walks
with Tess for awhile, and some of the children follow along. As
she approaches the cart that will take her luggage, Tess bids her
family a quick good-bye. She then looks up and sees Alec, who has
come for her. When she climbs up beside him, she can still see her
family in the distance. As she thinks about their needs, Tess knows
that she is doing the correct thing by going to Trantridge. It is now
her family that is uncertain; they are unhappy and tearful about her
departure. For the first time, Joan is apprehensive about sending
her away with a stranger and regrets not having made inquiries
Joan is fully aware of her family’s plight in life. She also knows
that Tess’ rustic beauty is the only thing to save them from poverty.
When Tess tells her mother about the D’Urberville’s son, Joan
thinks that Alec must have great admiration for her daughter. She,
therefore, insists that Tess dress in her best clothes to go to
Trantridge in order to impress Alec further. She wants her daughter
to wed this wealthy young man, for matrimony is the most
convenient way of gaining wealth and status. A D’Urberville
marriage would benefit the whole family. Unfortunately, Joan is
not sending Tess away to a marriage to Alec; instead, she her
daughter will soon endure a seduction by this cruel man.
It is important to note Joan’s misgivings during the chapter. At first
she thinks it is wonderful that Tess is going to Trantridge. Then
she is saddened by the thought of losing her daughter. Finally, she
feels guilty and nervous about sending Tess away with a stranger
that she knows nothing about. Joan’s misgivings are well founded
and serve as a flashback to the feelings Tess has had upon meeting
Alec. Joan’s feelings also foreshadow the future trouble that Alec
Tess leaves with Alec for Trantridge. His reckless driving makes
Tess uneasy. She asks him to be more careful, and he demands a
kiss to oblige her, revealing his true nature. Tess immediately
wipes her cheek after Alec forcibly plants a kiss on it. This action
Shortly afterwards, Tess’s hat blows off, and she gets off the cart to
retrieve it. Then she refuses to get back in the cart with Alec, for
she is upset over his amorous advances and his anger. Tess is
determined to walk the rest of the way, and Alec grows even more
furious at her audacity. While walking, Tess ponders returning
home, for she cannot trust her employer.
It is very obvious that Alec is infatuated with Tess, for he cannot
keep his eyes off of her. Tess’s constant requests to Alec to be
more attentive towards the road rather than her go unheeded. In
fact, he tries to show off more by urging the horses into a full
gallop. The jerky ride leaves Tess on edge. When Alec demands a
kiss in order to drive more cautiously, Tess is shocked and begins
to realize what the real Alec is like. She protests his behavior by
refusing to reboard the cart after retrieving her hat. Alec screams at
her, and Tess angrily responds; but she still refuses to climb back
up beside him. As Alec watches her trudge beside the cart, he feels
somewhat guilty, for he knows he has caused the situation. At the
same time, Tess wants to go home, but she feels no one would
accept or understand her reasons. If Tess, at this point, had
followed her instincts, she would have saved herself from the cruel
hands of fate.
At the beginning of the chapter, Hardy foreshadows that fate will
not be kind to Tess. He states that she was leaving Marlott, “the
Green Valley” of her birth, and moving towards an unknown “grey
On reaching her destination, Tess is shocked to discover that Mrs.
D’Urberville is blind. She also finds the elderly woman to be cold
and uncaring towards her. Tess learns from her that in addition to
tending the Trantridge fowl, she is to whistle for the bullfinches
every morning. Alec seizes this opportunity to teach Tess how to
whistle and encourages her to practice. He tries to find reasons to
spend time with her. Tess tries to ignore him and settles into her
The reader is introduced to the D’Urberville house, which Tess
judges to be a bit unruly. She is shocked to find that Mrs.
D’Urberville is blind and too naive to realize that the elderly
woman knows nothing about who Tess is. She thinks that the
woman’s indifference to her is simply due to her wealth. Alec has
obviously not explained anything to his mother, but he delights in
calling Tess “cousin” when they are alone. In spite of Alec’s all too
frequent presence, Tess settles into her new routine and is happy
looking after the birds.
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