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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.

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