Purity; In the Eye of the Beholder

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Hardy’s description of Tess in his sub-title to the book, calling her “a pure woman”, getting lots of criticism does not surprise me. However, I think it’s important to think about the adjective, “pure” that Hardy uses. What is pure? What are the constraints of being pure? I believe Hardy was not only speaking in terms of sexual purity, but a sense of purity in being a well-rounded human being, a sense of purity in being a loving person, and a sense of purity of one’s mind.

If we first look at this prudish form of purity that many Victorians of the time would have wanted, it’s not a secret that Tess is pure until her rape by Alec. BUT, even though technically she has lost her sense of sexual purity, I would call her still pure because she did not want that to happen to her and we indefinitely see that in the naming of her child, “Sorrow”. To me, that name goes against societal archetypes which could only make sense to someone in her sincere grieving position.

Next, if we look at Hardy’s “pure” adjective as someone who is a well-rounded, loving person, I think Tess fits pretty well. Although, in retrospect, Tess was used and abused by those in society, particularly men. Tess finds love and eventually opens up her feelings. She helps those she comes across and likes to enjoy the smaller things in life, like nature. She’s not a bad person.

Lastly, if we think about Tess having a pure mind, I can’t completely agree with Hardy giving her the title “pure”. I only say this because she is always at a war with her thoughts. Whether it be her rape, Sorrow, or hiding this secret from Angel, she is not free from the guilt in her mind enough to say she has a pure mind.

However, no matter what, she is more pure than the men who use and abuse her in the society. Tess began her life as a nice girl who trusted men, and didn’t associate her body with sexual desire. Tess got victimized, and essentially trapped by the men in this novel which makes society and the ability of men to manipulate her innocence what was not pure, not Tess.

 

 

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