Fate and Punishment of the Innocent in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Punishment is any type of physical, emotional or psychological violence that is done to a character in the perceived spirit of justice or retribution. Hardy often uses accidents and chance to bring his characters misfortune. This lets his personal view of pessimism and the inevitability of human suffering appear through the actions in his books. Fate and Tess’s own guilt causes her to stumble from tragedy to tragedy. Hardy is putting her through trials and punishing her while using Fate as almost a mask, leaving it up to destiny, which is controlled by the author. The fact that she survives so much and is even able to implement justice on Alec by killing him, is another form of fate.

This motif of revenge is shown in ‘The Homecoming’ as well, as Lenny punishes Max for what is implied as child abuse: ‘tuck me up’. ‘Tuck’ here is ambiguous as actors were not allowed to swear onstage during the 1960s, opening a possible interpretation of ‘fuck me up’, showing Max’s abusive nature. This vicious cycle of punishment perpetuates as the punished, Lenny, punishes the former punisher, Max, by belittling him and goading him. The punishment of gender is also demonstrated in both works, with Pinter placing Ruth in a house with entirely animalistic males, and Tess being punished by society for being raped. Society at the time thought of rape victims as ‘spoiled’, and the punishment of the innocent and the injustice is prevalent in both texts. The punishment of the innocent is still a problem today, especially in the circumstances which I have just outlined of child abuse and rape shame.

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‘Fate’ is the notion of a pre-prepared route that has been planned out for humans by a higher power. Humanity cannot overcome fate because we have no control over certain aspects of our life. The consequences of Fate are the will of the pitiless universe and what seems tragic to the reader is just the desires and hopes of men combatting and inevitably losing against Fate. This has strong links to religion and faith, something that Hardy struggled with his whole life. Fate gives a meaning to things that could be considered chance. Hardy ironizes the suggestion that benevolent God has a plan for all by stating that ‘‘justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals. In Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess.’. ‘Justice’ in inverted commas betrays the narrator’s suspiciousness and almost disgust with the way the story has ended, clearly implying that it was not just or right to put Tess to death. The ‘President of the Immortals’ leans on the irony of divine law and the draconian measures of punishment dealt out by divine beings. This is Hardy’s translation of a section of Aeschylus’ Prometheus. The allusion to ‘Prometheus’ links Tess’s journey to that of a Greek tragedy and compares her suffering to Prometheus’, one which is often quoted as barbaric, even by the standards of Greek mythology. The injustice of the punishment clearly not fitting the crime runs parallel in both scenarios. The eternity of having a liver ripped out by an eagle and Tess’s death are not just, and both are seemingly caused by the gods. Hardy’s use of the word ‘sport’ is indicative of his low opinion of divine justice and how they treat humanity as a game. He questions their warped sense of morals and their ethical standpoint and contrasts it with humanity’s feelings of pity for Tess.

The idea of Fate also has links to the classical world. While we cannot use Greek tragedy as a direct parallel with the novel, as there are certain fundamental differences, Hardy was influenced by tragedy and there are narrative similarities with the storylines of classical tragedies and Hardy’s works. While the rise of Tess is not as lofty and pronounced as some of his other characters, e.g. Henchard, she is depicted as having status in society, both by the description of her expensive clothes, but also by her name as ‘Mrs. D’Urberville’, which shows that she has taken the noble name and represents a higher class in society. Her ‘cashmere dressing gown’ and the fact that she stayed at a ‘stylish lodging house’ shows her newfound wealth at the hands of Alec. The idea of classical tragedy is also echoed at the end of the novel, as it ends with death, a defining characteristic of tragedy. The idea of injustice and punishment of the innocent is relevant also in the homecoming.

The family depicted are in every sense the opposite of innocent. Lenny is a pimp and abuses women without thought, only not killing one because it risks his getting into ‘a state of tension’. This suggests that he is experienced in the field of murdering prostitutes and thinks of it more a pulse-raising game with minor drawbacks. His lower register breaks through his polished exterior when violence is involved, showing his lack of innocence. The slip in register could reveal his enjoyment for violence and his eagerness to talk and almost boast about his achievements. It betrays his excitement about committing violence and punishing other human beings. Joey is a rapist and has no remorse or even recognition that what he is doing could be considered even remotely wrong. He speaks casually and even asks ‘What bird?’, implying that he as done this so many times that he has lost count. Max is a suggested child abuser and he is a naturally violent man, wishing for his son to ‘drown in [his] own blood’. Teddy is the most societally normal among them, yet he is punished, by his own family no less. Teddy’s passiveness and purely intellectual sense of power makes him vulnerable to the animality and ruthlessness of his family. He has not raped or killed and he is punished for being the most innocent of the whole family. He is cuckolded by his own family and made to return to America to care for his children while his wife sleeps with other men abroad.

The role reversal of traditional gender stereotypes is a main tactic of Pinter, used to subvert the classical expectations of gender and break down barriers There is an argument that Tess’s passiveness ‘renders her responsible for her suffering’ . They are exploited because of their . The play is a good example of Hobbesian theory and this experiment demonstrates the rational superiority of being purely self-interested and completely disregarding societal rules.

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