From 11:00PM PDT on Friday, July 1 until 5:00AM PDT on Saturday, July 2, the Shmoop engineering elves will be making tweaks and improvements to the site. That means Shmoop will be unavailable for use during that time. Thanks for your patience!
We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

  

by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D'Urbervilles Theme of Justice and Judgment

"Justice and Judgment" is a big theme in Tess of the D'Urbervilles. If Tess isn't responsible for her actions (she is sent to Trantridge to see the D'Urbervilles against her will; she is a victim of rape; etc.), why does she keep getting punished?

This is a question that she asks herself (and the universe) at a couple of different points, and it's a question that the reader has to ask pretty frequently, too. Some literary critics have even gone so far as to call Hardy a sadist for punishing Tess so continually for sins she didn't willingly commit.

Questions About Justice and Judgment

  1. Is Tess's fate "just"? By whose standards?
  2. Why does Hardy not depict Tess's trial or execution?
  3. In the world of this novel, is justice universal, or should it be adjusted to fit individual circumstances?
  4. Is there any character in the novel who accepts Tess without judging her?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

By refusing to depict the system of justice that arraigned, tried, and sentenced Tess, Hardy creates an ironic detachment from the action of the final chapter and refuses to make himself or the reader complicit in that system.

Angel comes to realize that justice should not be an inflexible, universal norm to which everyone is held equally, but should be flexible to fit individual circumstances.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...

Advertisement