Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Fate and Free Will Theme
This theme is strongly linked to the themes of "Time" and "Memory and the Past." Basically, in the world of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, your history determines your future, but you don't have much control over it. Or do you? Different characters take different views on this. Does being a D'Urberville mean that Tess necessarily will have the kind of sketchy morality that Angel thinks all aristocrats have? No, of course not. But is Tess's rape a result of her being a D'Urberville? Well, kind of – but only due to bad choices on her father and mother's parts. So whether the tragedy is caused by fate or free will is still an open question at the end of the book.
Questions About Fate and Free Will
- Is Tess's rape a result of fate, or free will?
- Why do so many of the rural characters, like Joan Durbeyfield, like to blame things that happen on fate?
- Why does Tess reject the idea of fate, even though it would help to excuse what happened to her?
- After Tess's rape, the narrator quotes "Tess's own people" who are never tired of saying among each other in their fatalistic way: 'It was to be' (11.64). Does he mean Tess's family, the ancient D'Urberville family, or other common people? Why would their reaction be so "fatalistic"?
Chew on This
Although Tess's tragedy is primarily caused by events over which Tess has no control, it is impossible to argue that her suffering was the result of an adverse, abstract "Fate."
Despite the many characters that blame their misfortunes on the will of a perverse "Fate," Tess insists on blaming her own suffering entirely on human causes.