Tess of the D'Urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The club-walking scene at the beginning of Chapter Two has to be important, because it's the first time we see Tess. And what's she doing? She's participating in the modern form of what is actually an ancient tradition that had to do with worshipping the earth and the fertility goddesses. Tess and the other women of Marlott don't know about the origins of their club-walking, but they perform the traditional ceremony every year just the same.
The narrator says that of all the villages in that part of England, "the club of Marlott alone lived to uphold the local Cerealia. It had walked for hundreds of years, and it walked still" (2.6). The "Cerealia" is a ceremony worshipping the Roman goddess "Ceres," the goddess of the earth and all growing things (including wheat and other "cereal" grains). It was traditionally a female ceremony – no boys allowed – because women were associated with fertility (what with child-bearing and all), and men weren't. So this early scene ties Tess to an ancient female lineage that is even older than the D'Urberville family on her father's side. It also associates her with fertility rituals and Nature with a capital "N."