“Tess is more sinned against than sinning.” Do you agree?

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a notable literary work by Thomas Hardy. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of Tess of the d'Urbervilles.


“Tess is more sinned against than sinning.” Do you agree?

The statement “Tess is more sinned against than sinning” reveals the complex moral landscape in Thomas Hardy‘s (1840-1928) novel, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” (1891). This statement suggests that Tess, the protagonist, is subjected to more injustices and external pressures than she is morally responsible for her actions. In this essay, we will explore the various facets of Tess’s life and the events that unfold in the novel, analyzing whether she is a victim of circumstances.

Social Class and Birthright: Tess Durbeyfield’s life begins in poverty and obscurity. She was born into a working-class family. She is thrust into a world of privilege and expectations when her family learns of their distant connection to the aristocratic D’Urberville family. Tess has no control over her birthright, and the burden of her family’s dreams and aspirations is placed upon her shoulders. It makes her more sinned against by the accident of her birth.

Manipulation by Alec D’Urberville: Alec d’Urberville, a wealthy and entitled man, takes advantage of Tess’s innocence and vulnerability. He seduces her under pretenses. It leads to her loss of innocence. Tess is not morally offended by the traumatic event that changed her life.

Abandonment by Angel Clare: Angel Clare, Tess’s love interest, initially appears to be a morally upright character. However, when he learns of Tess’s past, he abandons her. Angel says:

“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?”

It shattered her hopes for a better life. Tess’s love for Angel is sincere, and her willingness to confess her past shows her desire for honesty. Angel’s abandonment leaves her ruined and betrayed.

The Double Standard of Morality: Tess’s “sin” of having had a sexual encounter before her marriage is viewed through a harsh lens of Victorian morality. However, the double standard of the time allows men like Alec to escape societal judgment while Tess bears the stress of the slander. This societal hypocrisy makes Tess a victim of the prevailing moral norms.

Familial Pressures: Tess shoulders the responsibility of providing for her impoverished family. Her parents and siblings depend on her earnings. She feels deeply obligated. This domestic pressure leads her to work at the D’Urberville mansion. It sets the tragic events in motion. Tess’s sense of duty and selflessness illustrate her as a victim of circumstances beyond her control.

Persecution by Society: As Tess struggles to rebuild her life after her traumatic experiences, society continues persecuting her. Her community expels and judges her. 

“Whip me, crush me; you need not mind those people under the rick! I shall not cry out. Once victim, always victim, that’s the law.”

It makes it nearly impossible for her to escape her past and start anew. This inflexible societal judgment makes her a victim of a harsh and unforgiving world. 

The Tragedy of Coincidence: Tess is plagued by unfortunate coincidences throughout the novel. These chance occurrences, such as meeting Alec again and Angel’s delayed return, conspire against her. Tess cannot control these twists of fate. It emphasizes her victimhood in a world where randomness plays a significant role.

Tess’s Desperation and Ultimate Act: As Tess’s life unravels, she is pushed to despair. While morally ambiguous, her actions in the later part of the novel can be seen as desperate attempts to escape the relentless cycle of suffering and societal condemnation. She views these actions in the context of her victimization rather than solely as moral sin is crucial.

To conclude, Tess is a victim of her social class, manipulative individuals, the double standards of morality, familial pressures, societal persecution, and a series of unfortunate coincidences. While she may not be without moral flaws, the fatal load of external forces and circumstances makes her more sinned against than sinning. Tess’s tragic story serves as a powerful critique of the societal norms and injustices that can crush the lives of those trapped in its net.