Question: Is Tess a Pure Woman? Justify Your Answer.
When Tess of the D’Urbervilles was first published, it caused a storm. Many have found the subtitle of the book offensive. They did not understand how Tess could be subtitled as a pure woman when her sexual and criminal offenses were out of contention. On a note, Hardy regrets that his critics have ignored the meaning of the word “pure” in nature, with all aesthetic claims on it, without mentioning the spiritual interpretation given by the subtle aspects of their own Christianity.
Poverty and helplessness
Hardy has considered Tess a genuine and pure woman, and rightly so. It is clear from previous incidents of temptation that Tess in no way encourages Alec to make his loving progress. From the beginning, she shows a normal modesty and sacred freedom of mind and body. She suffers when Alec feeds her strawberries. On her second ride in “The Slopes”, she erases the kiss he gives her. She decides to walk the last few miles instead of sitting next to him in the car. Tess’s reliance on Alec’s mother and his mother’s reliance on him blinds the mother of his faults and that is why Tess becomes more flexible under Alec’s hands and thus Tess forcefully moves forward to become Alec’s concubine.
Alec D’Urberville is a man who specializes in the art of seduction. Although he was unable to persuade Tess to surrender, his tactics confuse her and weaken the security of her defense. It also seems that she was not very well aware of the physical activity to which it was all pioneering. She was not ready to fight the guilty emotion, the existence of which she did not know. She later blames her mother; “Why didn’t you, warn me?”
Utilization of opportunity by Alec
Alec subtly weakens Tess’s mental defenses, though certainly subject to conscious submission. For example, one day, Tess returns home after a fight with Alec’s one of the companions and that is why she becomes physically exhausted. She is indescribably tired. Her daily routine is to get up at five o’clock every morning and has to work hard the whole day. And owing to the quarrel on that evening, she has to walk three miles to Chasehorborough, waited three hours for her neighbors without eating or drinking, then walks one mile on the way home and endures the quarrel. When she’s getting back home, It’s almost one o’clock at night. Tess falls asleep naturally and lays on the ground of the dark forest. Alec finds this opportunity perfect enough and starts to seduce her. Even when Alec seduces her, she’s not in a position to resist physically or mentally, and she hardly understands what he’s doing until it’s too late.
The strangeness of society’s unnatural code
Tess’s mother, Mrs. Durbeyfield reacts in the “natural” way to Tess‘s sadness; “Tis nature after all, and what do please God!” According to her, sex is a natural activity and Tess is a child of Nature. We notice her growth to womanhood, her “luxuriance of aspect”, and “fullness of growth” not as isolated facts, but as part of the “brimfulness of Nature itself.” Throughout the novel, Hardy gives emphasis on the neutrality or innocence of Nature. Nature is neither malevolent nor benevolent. Nature is not a force for evil or for good. In this sense, Tess is innocent. Indeed, the physical surrender of a passionate girl is natural and innocent in the simple animalistic course of events. Tess never surrendered her heart. Basically, her heart was almost unaware of what was happening. For this reason, Hardy avails many opportunities to point out the strangeness of society’s artificial, unnatural code. Tess is weighed down by a consciousness of guilt. But Hardy claims that she has been deluded by the conventional attitudes of society.
Murder of Alec
Tess’s purity is a more difficult issue when it comes to the murder of Alec D’Urberville. She kills him voluntarily and knowingly. Alec has been instrumental in bringing about the destruction of Tess. His actions have caused her untold suffering and completely destroyed her happiness. Tess begins to believe that Angel Clare will never return, as well as the irresistible feeling that Alec is in any sense her only true husband. Only through Alec’s death can that physical claim be removed: only by killing him can she finally reject what she has done.
There is some ambiguity as to why Tess stayed “a few weeks” after her first seduction, although some critics say she did not have sex with Alec during this time. But the language that Hardy has used to describe this position provides a basis for the idea that sex existed even after the first seduction. If she had not surrendered at all for the first time, she would have run away immediately.
We firmly believe that morally and spiritually Tess is absolutely stainless and pure. Purity is the soul, and with a spiritual reference, the word “pure” can be applied unconditionally to it. Purity should not be taken in the narrow sense of the body, it is the soul that is really important. Tess has a strong conscience that she always listens to. Her inner voice tells her about the dangers of moving to a new family in The Chase. His final surrender to Alec is beyond his control. She was not her real soul, the misery of her family destroyed all her willpower and strength.