The role of chance in Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”
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Written as an exhortation on the sexual hypocrisy of English society in the 1800s, Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” chronicles the events that lead eventually to the death of the virginal Tess. Random chance initiates more of the conflicts in “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” than any of the more subtle and realistic happenings. Coincidence also plays a serious role in complicating the events in the plot. The resolutions in Hardy’s plot more often than not result from chance occurrences. By discussing the affect chance has on initiating, complicating, and resolving issues in the plot of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” one can come to better understand the plot.
Hardy’s Tess has more dreadful things befall her by pure happenstance than most other literary figures of her time. One may say that the parson’s revelation of the Durbeyfield’s true lineage reveals the instance that causes the rest of the plot to appear feasible. However precipitous that even may have seemed, the accidental skewering of the Durbeyfield’s only horse leads to more mishap then any other single event in the text. Tess’s rape by Alec Stokes, in the last pages of Phase the First, paves the way for endless reoccurrences of ill happenings throughout the rest of the text. These occurrences may lead the reader to believe, not incorrectly, that much of the rest of the novel contains a great deal of awful events.
Not only does coincidence play a large part in initiating conflict, it also seems to go out of its way to complicate it. Take for example the impregnation of Tess by Alec; this event throws Tess’s life far off of its original course. Later the loss of her confessionary letter to Angel, under the carpet of his room, gives her a false sense of hope which he later dashes. Then, irony upon irony, Tess’s finding a reformed Alec preaching by the farm she works at gives new meaning to the word “complicate.” So, not only does Hardy’s story start out badly but it continues to go down hill long after the reader believes it has hit rock bottom.
As if the coincidences that initiated and complicated events in the plot did not satisfy Hardy, he also used them to resolve those conflicts. The death of Tess’s newborn child serves to resolve the conflict begun with her rape by Alec. Alec’s death, by Tess’s hand, serves to resolve the issue of her shared immorality with him before Angel’s return. Finally, Tess’s execution for the murder of Alec resolves the sum total of all the conflicts in Tess’s life. Although the chance happenings that cause the conflicts in the plot may seem a bit random, they are counter balanced by the coincidences that resolve them.
Chance plays a large roll in the plot of “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”; one may see this by examining the effect chance has on initiating, complicating, and resolving the conflicts in the plot. By looking at the coincidences that initiate conflicts in the plot, one may conclude that the subject of the text will deal with a large quantity of unhappy happenings. After having begun the story on a melancholy note, Hardy then goes on to complicate it with more random and awful happenings. However many times Hardy uses coincidence to initiate or complicate the plot, he always follows up the resolving it with more random chance. Shit happens; deal with it.