In the Garden: How Tess of the d’Urbervilles shows gender inequality

Amongst the constantly looming religious undertones throughout Tess of the d’Urbervilles (which shall henceforth be referred to as TOD), the superiority of the male figure over the women one is a theme that grows with the plot. It is well known that in the book of Genesis, woman came from man and hence a stereotype lasting ages was born, where men dominate women. Tess, for all of her hard work and struggles, is constantly plagued by men. The men, in particular, are of course Alec and Angel, who both share the same love and show the same domination over the same woman. Though very different characters overall, the ability for both Alec and Angel to hold such emotional (and at some times, physical) power over Tess is used by Hardy to show just how bad the discrepancy between males and females were during the time the novel was written.

The most literal example of male domination is in the act of Alec sexually assaulting Tess. This act in and of itself is disturbing regardless of its modern implications and is the most direct instance of male domination over a woman character. The act of being sexually assaulted is not one done out of ignorance, as Alec is both fully aware and even acknowledges how awful he is for seducing Tess for his own pleasure. Tess is affected by this event for the rest of the novel, but in the grand scheme of things, she still goes back to Alec at times. It is interesting here to note that Hardy is giving the responsibility and acknowledgment to the men (Alec), and the consequences to the women. It can be argued that this was because even in sin men still dominated women, and would exploit this often.

Angel represents the emotional control men had over women. One example is when Angel reveals he prefers Tess over other women, one of Tess’ friends attempts to kill herself and another becomes an alcoholic. There is an unhealthy obsession that some of these females had over men, and this obsession ends up dominating their lives at no cost to Angel. This, of course, is not so much a commentary on the psychological state of humans as much as it is a reflection on the power relative gender roles had on the members of each respective role. Angel then creates a mold by which Tess is supposed to belong to, rather than actually loving her for herself. Angel describes Tess as “dead” (260) in response to learning about her secrets. This suppression of female identity, which to Tess was “all is vanity” (287) was the dominating emotional force behind the institution of marriage at the time, where females lost their name, their money, and what little freedom they had. The identity of Tess was never her own but was rather at the design of men who held perceived power over her.

10 thoughts on “In the Garden: How Tess of the d’Urbervilles shows gender inequality

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