Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles centers upon Tess, in which the story bears her name. Tess’s stunning prettiness is evident of her aristocratic descent, though is tied down to a rural life and the name Durbeyfield, preventing her advancement. She is a tragic figure, punished for a crime that is not her own and living a lower life than she deserves. Tormented by fate and powerless to the occurrences around her, Tess leads a life greater than that of an individual person.
Tess’s aristocratic descent is marked by her beauty, a relatively high education, and her desire to seek advancement. She believes, however, that being tied down to the name Durbeyfield prevents her from attaining a higher life. When a man informs Tess’s father that he belongs to the D’Urbervilles, an ancient aristocratic bloodline, he explains, ” ‘You don’t live anywhere. You are extinct-as a country family'” (Hardy 3). Tess herself is embarrassed by her father’s luxurious return to their cottage: ” ‘He’s tired, that’s all,’ she said hastily, ‘and he has got a lift home because our own horse has to rest today'” (Hardy 9). Yet she is loved by two gentleman, the first being Alec D’urberville of Tess’s same bloodline, followed by Angel Clare, who she worships like a god.
The D’Urberville bloodline unravels as a curse, and Tess must pay for a crime which is not her own doing. Alec takes advantage of her one night, and she refuses him, returning to her family to their disappointment of her not having married a gentleman. To Tess, being a D’Urberville is an idealistic stage which she cannot achieve, and later realizes that, “there should be no more d’Urberville air-castles in the dreams and deeds of her new life. She would be the dairymaid Tess, and nothing more” (Hardy 100). Angel Clare questions why Tess degrades herself so unfairly, but both Tess and the readers know of her curse.
Though Angel’s love for Tess seems to be unconditional, she knows that she is fated to be punished for what Alec did to her. The note that Tess wrote to Angel disappears under his carpet, closing the opportunity for forgiveness. Angel even states that he would have forgiven her early on and he asks, ” ‘Why didn’t you tell me before?'” But her confession was hindered just like the letter. The theme of fate has taken effect, and Tess will undeservingly be deserted by Angel, only to be reunited for a brief time before her death.
One would think that Tess is powerful in murdering Alec, but in reality this is merely a move of desperation to reunite with Angel. Although the sickly Angel now accepts her, society does not, and she will pay one last time with her life. Tess is a character greater than an individual; she selflessly sacrifices herself to those she loves. A bloodline which she had originally thought would save her declining family only led to her downfall. But the reader knows that Tess attains peace with herself, bringing a heartbreaking yet perfect conclusion to the story.