Tess of the d'Urbervilles : themes

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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 of the d’Urbervilles is a famous novel by Thomas Hardy. In this section, we are going to know several themes of the novel.

Social Class and Inequality

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles explores the harsh consequences of social class and gender in Victorian England. Tess, a poor and vulnerable woman, becomes a victim of society’s prejudices and patriarchal values, leading to her tragic downfall. The novel highlights the injustices and inequalities of the time.

The Conflict between Nature and Civilization

In the novel, nature is often portrayed as pure and untamed, while civilization represents the corrupting influence of society. Tess, a symbol of natural innocence, is contrasted with urban life’s artificiality and moral decay. This conflict is evident in Tess’s struggle to maintain purity amidst societal expectations and conditions.


Tess’s sexuality is a central theme. It highlights the double standards of the time. Her seduction by Alec, a wealthy young man, and later, her relationship with Angel challenge societal norms regarding female sexuality. Tess’s sexual experiences shape her identity and lead to tragic consequences. It explores the complex attitudes toward sex in Victorian society.

Religion and Spirituality 

Religious motifs are woven throughout the story. It questions the traditional concepts of sin and redemption. Tess grapples with her faith and questions divine justice, especially considering her hardships. The novel critiques the hypocrisy of religious institutions. It emphasizes personal morality over religious doctrine.

Sexual Morality and Gender Roles

The novel exposes the rigid gender roles and sexual morality of the Victorian era. Tess is judged harshly by society for her perceived impurity, whereas men like Alec face fewer consequences for their immoral actions. This incongruity reflects the inequality and moral hypocrisy prevalent in the society of that time.

Modernization and Industrialization

The encroachment of modernity and industrialization is evident in the novel as rural England transforms into an urban, industrial society. This shift disrupts traditional ways of life and contributes to the loss of innocence and the disintegration of agrarian communities. Hardy portrays modernization as a force that erodes the values of rural life.

Innocence and Corruption

Tess starts as a symbol of innocence but becomes a victim of corruption, both morally and socially. Her journey represents the loss of innocence as she confronts the world’s harsh realities. The contrast between her pure nature and the corrupt world she inhabits highlights the tragedy of her story.

Love and Relationships

The novel explores various facets of love, from infatuation and lust to genuine, selfless love. Tess’s relationships with Alec and Angel showcase the complexities of romantic love and the consequences of societal expectations. In this context, love becomes a source of joy and immense pain. It drives the characters’ actions and influences the story’s outcome.