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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

villainous character.


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

about him.


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

will cause.


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

outrages Alec.

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

new existence.


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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