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Themes

Little Words, Big Ideas

Fate and Free Will

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 c...

Memory and the Past

In Tess of the D'Urbervilles, this theme is obviously connected with the more general theme of "Time," but while that theme has to do with the passage of time, this one has to do mostly with charac...

Women and Femininity

Hardy has plenty to say about this theme. Part of the tragedy of this novel is that Angel idealizes Tess, and thinks of her as a kind of "every woman," instead of as a unique, individual woman. In...

Man and the Natural World

Hardy's very interested in the relationship of women to nature, in particular. In Tess of the D'Urbervilles, women are more in touch with the earth than men are, and are able to melt into the lands...

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 o...

Contrasting Regions

Nineteenth century England was characterized by a huge growth in the population in cities, and a movement away from old-fashioned farming in the country. That movement was a result of all the inven...

Marriage

Tess of the D'Urbervilles asks the reader to think about the fact that marriage is a social convention: it's a practice that was invented by people. It's something that we learn from society, but n...

Time

The passage of time always seems out of whack in Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Because of the sudden changes described in the "Contrasting Regions" theme, different parts of the country, and even diff...

Sex

Hardy had a difficult time publishing Tess of the D'Urbervilles because there was so much sex in it. Sure, most of the sex isn't described in any kind of graphic detail, but we still know it takes...
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