Role of Fate in Tess of the D’urbervilles

Question: Discuss the Role of Fate in Tess of the D’urbervilles


An important aspect of Thomas Hardy’s novel “Tess of the D’urbervilles” (1992) is the role of fate that makes Tess unforgettable and significant. The novel apparently shows the role of fate in Tess’s life as a victim of the so-called grip of fate. When readers read the novel, they realize that every stage of Tess’s life is controlled by fate. Whatever she does in her life to improve her poor condition has no positive result because everything in his life is pre-planned and determined by fate. To observe the role of fate in her life, it would be very helpful to divide Tess’s life into stages to understand what role fate plays.

Three phases of Tess’s life

Tess’s life may be divided into different stages due to various traumatic situations in her life, but it would be easy to limit Tess’s life to three stages, her life in her parents’ home, separation from her parents and boyfriend, and finally tragic ending of her life.

The first stage of the parental home

Tess belongs to a poor family where she is the eldest daughter on whom all the responsibilities of the home depend. As the eldest daughter of the family, she has to take care of her younger siblings in addition to household chores. On the other hand, her father is a drunkard who does not take care of Tess as well as the family. He does nothing to ignore his poor condition. Tess is well aware of her father’s irresponsible behavior. So she decided to help her family with the family business. Her decision to help the family reflects her responsible attitude towards improving the socio-economic condition of the family. When Tess learns of her father’s drunken state, she immediately realizes that her father is physically and mentally unable to deliver a load of beehives to the market within a few hours. Subsequently, she decides to take the beehives to the market as soon as possible. But she does not know that something unexpected is coming to shake her family life. When Tess and her brother named Abraham go to the market, their horse’s entitled Prince collides with a local mail cart, and the horse dies in the incident. In other words, it can be said that the death of a horse is a bad and unwanted sign for Tess which is not in her favor. After the death of the horse, their economic condition becomes worse and poorer. Her family status can be noticed when she says;

“Tis all my doing – all mine! No excuse for me – none. What will mother and father live on now? Aby, Aby! We can’t go on with our load – Prince is killed!”

This is the first episode of her life which ends with the death of the prince. The ending of this episode takes Tess’s life to the second episode, which is full of struggles and sorrows.

The helpless inception of the second stage

After the death of the horse, Tess has to work at Mrs. D’Urbervilles’ house to support her family financially. This truth is accepted by Tess and she says;

“Well, as I killed the horse, mother; I suppose I ought to do something. I don’t mind going and seeing her, but you must leave it to me about asking for help. And don’t go thinking about her making a match for me – it is silly”.

At first, she was reluctant to go to Mrs. D’Urberville’s house, but she had no choice but to save her family. When she arrives at the destination, she first meets Alec, who is an animal in human form. Alec doesn’t think there’s much difference between him and Tess in terms of age. At Tess’s first appearance, Alec becomes fascinated by her beautiful and magnetic physique. Tess doesn’t realize that she’s caught up in Alec’s seductive plan. About his character, Alec says the truth;

“I can say no more. I suppose I am bad fellow – a damn bad fellow. I was born bad, and I have lived bad, and I shall die bad in all probability”.

This confession indirectly indicates that Alec will seduce whatever the situation and price are but Tess is too young to recognize Alec’s cunning plan. Eventually, Alec succeeds in his endeavor when he sees Tess with her friends as they come from a party outside D’Urberville. Tess is drunk with her friends and enjoying each other’s company. When Alec meets them on the way home, he thinks it’s the right time to get her involved in his plan. Initially, Tess resists the offer to drop her off at the destination, but in the end, he persuades her to go with him. But she does not know that fate has decided something bad for her. She is not even in a position to thwart his seductive plan. She is seduced by Alec at the dark in a secluded place of the darkest forest. When she is being seduced, she can’t even feel what is happening to her. Tess explains her bad condition to her mother by saying this;

“How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house for months ago. Why didn’t you warn me?

Hearing this, her mother Mrs. Durbeyfield reacts in an artificial way. From this raping intimacy, Tess becomes pregnant and begets a child named Sorrow who dies at his birth. So, this is nothing but fate.

The separation between Tess and Angel

Something worse is waiting for her when she decides to leave home in search of a job to support her family financially. At this point, some of the happiest moments in her life are noticed when she meets Angel Clare, who works at a dairy farm. Angel Clare is a handsome and attractive man who is liked by almost all women but he is attracted by the beauty and modesty of Tess. He falls in love with her at the first sight. There is no doubt that in this short period of time, Tess feels happy after a long depression. This moment of joy with Angel Clare does not last long because her past life is haunting her like a ghost. Whenever she spends time with Clare, she tries unsuccessfully to tell him about her past life but can’t because she is afraid and believes that Clare will leave her after knowing the truth of her life. Sometimes she thinks Clare won’t let him go because she didn’t do anything wrong. The incident of pregnancy is just a mistake made by Alec. But being a pure woman, Tess doesn’t want to hide anything from Angel. Before the marriage, she writes the letter about her past life and leaves it in Angel Clare’s room so that he would not feel that she has betrayed him in love. But unfortunately, Clare does not get the letter and the two get married. Both characters feel happy after marriage and go out on their honeymoon. When they are at the peak of their happiness, suddenly a storm of destruction comes into their life and destroys their married life when both the characters decide to talk about the secrets of their past. Tess undoubtedly accepts Angel Clare’s secrecy about his relationship with a girl. The situation turns completely when she tells him that Alec seduced her. She explains that she had to suffer a lot for this but Angel Clare cannot tolerate this bitter truth and tells;

“O Tess forgiveness does not apply to the case. You were one person; now you are another. My God – How can forgiveness meet such a grotesque – prestidigitation as that?”

Thus, Angel decides to leave Tess now. She pleads with him not to leave and tries to explain his point by saying:

“What I have done – what have I done! I have not told of anything that interferes with or belies my love for you. You don’t think I planned it, do you? It is in your mind what you are angry at, Angle: it is not in me. O, it is not in me, and I am not that deceitful woman you think me!”

But Angel does not listen to her and leaves her on condition. Moreover, Tess’s devotion to love can be noticed when she lets Angel decide what her punishment should be and says;

“I agree to the condition, Angel; because you know best what my punishment ought to be; only – only – don’t make it more than I can bear!”

But Angel doesn’t even think about what will happen to Tess if he leaves her. From here, along with the end of the second phase of life, her happy moment also ends and the last episode of her sorrow and death begins.

Reunion and tragic death

When Angel Clare leaves Tess, she begins to believe that her husband will one day come back to her and they will be united forever. After a long time of Angel’s departure, Tess marries Alec and lives a failed married life. Suddenly a new and annoying turn begins to knock on the door of her life when Angel Clare appears in Tess’s life. Angel Clare and Tess are both surprised to see each other because they have no hope of seeing and meeting each other. When Angel finds out that Tess is Alec’s wife, he says nothing and accepts the truth. Again Clare decides to leave her with Alec to live a married life. After meeting Clare, Tess goes to her bedroom. When she opens the drawer, she gets surprised to find the letter in the box she wrote to Clare. Now she fully understands that Clare did not get the letters which she wrote for him. Alec hides all the letters. She believes that Alec is responsible for all her troubles and sufferings from beginning to end. Now she decides to take revenge on Alec and kills him in a rage. After killing Alec, Tess meets Angel Clare and spends some memorable moments with him. She tries to make her last meeting with him a memorable moment because she knows the truth that she can’t continue her life with him because of Alec’s murder. Eventually, Tess is hanged for killing Alec.


After observing all of Tess’s traumatic and tragic experiences, it is easy to conclude that Tess’s life is controlled and governed by fate since it has been clearly shown and observed that there is not a single moment and event in the novel where fate has no role in her life. This is the point that brings tears to the reader’s eyes because the other characters in the novel feel some relief and happiness in their lives but Tess is exceptional because there is no end to her sadness. It would not be wrong to say that Tess’s character will always be remembered for her boundless sorrow and the role of fate in her life.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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