Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy
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Tess of the D'Urbervilles Justice and Judgment Quotes Page 1

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Quote #1

Walking among the sleeping birds in the hedges, watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a pheasant-laden bough, she looked upon herself as a figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the while she was making a distinction where there was no difference. Feeling herself in antagonism she was quite in accord. She had been made to break a necessary social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly. (13.15)

We discuss this passage in the analysis of the theme of "Man and the Natural World," but it's also important to consider in this context. The only law that Tess has broken is a social law, that people shouldn't have sex before they're married – and that is a law that was invented by humans. But she, and most other people, have so internalized those social laws that they have forgotten where they came from. They've forgotten that those laws are not actually a natural or fundamental part of the world.

Tess is mixing up epistemology (social codes and man-made ways of understanding the world) with ontology (the way the world really is, without the perspective forced on us by society). Civilization provides us with epistemology, the social framework through which we see the world, while nature represents ontology, because it just is, with or without that social framework. Congratulations, you just passed metaphysics 101!

Quote #2

But now that her moral sorrows were passing away a fresh one arose on the natural side of her which knew no social law. When she reached home it was to learn to her grief that the baby had been suddenly taken ill since the afternoon. (14.30)

Once again, we're seeing a distinction between "social law" and "natural" law – between epistemology and ontology.

Quote #3

She had no fear of the shadows; her sole idea seemed to be to shun mankind – or rather that cold accretion called the world, which, so terrible in the mass, is so unformidable, even pitiable, in its units. (13.13)

Tess has often been associated with nature and with the ancient worship of female nature goddesses (see 2.6, for example, where Tess and the other women of Marlott participate in the ancient celebration of the earth goddess, which now takes the form of the club-walking). So it makes sense that she should feel safe in the woods. Her only real danger is from people – especially people as a group, or an "accretion" – because it's as a group that people judge and gossip.

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