Symbolism in Tess of the D'Urbervilles
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Tess of the D'Urbervilles, like many of the literary works by Thomas Hardy, offers a critique of modernity. Tess is a symbol for the primitive or natural. Her status as a symbol for nature is established in many ways. The major events of Tess' life involve animals: the horse who died when she fell asleep, the pheasants she kills to ease their suffering and the cows present when she falls in love with Angel. Tess is raped by Alec, eventually giving birth to his sickly child. These events demonstrate that Tess, like nature, is desirable and defined by her productive capabilities. Alec represents humanity's cruelty toward nature, including the onslaught of pollution and technology. Tess' status as a symbol for nature is also confirmed when she visits natural locations. At Stonehenge, Tess ultimately surrenders to society when she lays down on the stone altar. She knows that the police will see her executed. Ultimately, Tess does not ever fit within the confines of middle class morality, despite her efforts to keep the love of her husband, Angel.
Angel and his family, on the other hand, represent the efforts by society to civilize and tame nonconformists. Angel's father directly attempts to change others by converting them to his religion. Angel's brothers attack Tess for her more naturalistic ways, preferring instead the woman hoped to be Angel's wife, Mercy Chant. Mercy Chant is viewed as a more respectable choice for marriage both because she is religious and because she is a teacher. Her educated status is a significant departure from Tess' own low-class, uneducated background.