SAC Out come 2 – Literature
In “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” Hardy does expose the social injustices and double standards which prevail in the late nineteenth century.
These injustices and double standards are evident throughout the whole novel, and Tess, the main character, is the one who suffers them.
This becomes evident from the first page when Parson Tringham meets Jack Durbeyfield and refers to him as “Sir John”. With his whimsical comment, made from the safety of a secure social position, the Parson begins the events which start the destruction and downfall of the whole Durbeyfield family.
Logically the fact that Tess’s family and their “gentlefolk” relatives have the same descendents should mean that both sides of the family are equal, but this is not true.
Hardy makes this obvious in the contrast between Tess’s mother’s dialect and the sense of her words,
“That was all a part of the larry! We’ve been found to be the greatest gentlefolk in the whole county.”[p.21]
The industrial revolution had begun a social revolution, and with ideas of democracy becoming popular, the notion of equality existed. But in the areas of England that housed the “landed gentry” it was no more than a notion. The gentry and peasantry were still totally separate and even if the gentry espoused the idea of equality, as Tess was accepted into the richer side of the family, the acceptance was hypocritical.
As we find out later in the novel, Alec is not even a real D’Urberville; this perhaps represents the false and dishonest nature of that class privilege. It also highlights how arbitrary inherited position is.
Alec D’Urberville, who believed because he had social position that he could do whatever he wanted, treated Tess cruelly. This raises the questions, should the rich treat the poor as they do? And how do the rich get rich? Could it be because they treat the peasants as they do? If they always have someone to look down upon they will always be of a higher class. If they are superior they have a duty to treat the less fortunate with respect and help them.
One of the reasons the higher-class people saw themselves as superior was because of their strict religious beliefs. What ever happened to “do unto others”, and the fundamental equality of all before god? They are strongly religious but can still treat the peasants with disrespect and superiority. I believe that the whole religious scene was hypocritical. Where is the church during Tess’s misfortunes? Angel Clare is a man of strong religious beliefs but he cannot find it in himself to forgive her for a sin that was not even her fault. Not only this, it was a sin of which he too was guilty – they both had a premarital affair. This leads us to the hypocrisy in the different standards set for men and women. True, this difference was common to the whole society, but Hardy does appear to be a pioneer in highlighting the injustice. At the end of phase the fourth, Angel admits to plunging into “eight and...