Eight months have passed and Tess is again poor and laboring. She has worked occasionally at other dairies and farms in the spring and autumn. Angel's money has all gone to her family's broken roof and Tess's own needs, and she is both too proud and too ashamed to ask Mr. Clare for money as Angel had suggested. She does not disturb her own parents' notion that she and Angel are happily reconciled, as admitting the truth would destroy her own hopes as well.
Angel has left Tess in just as bad a state as Alec did. She is much older now but essentially back to where she started, unfairly used by a man and forced to sacrifice herself to take care of her poor family. Her d'Urberville pride and the shame that society has bred in her are almost her undoing.
At the same time Angel is sick with fever in Brazil, and has found that the paradise he expected is in fact harsh and not at all inclined to English agricultural methods.
Just like with Tess, Angel finds that his agricultural wonderland is not as he expected. He also sickens away from Tess, like modern man when removed from Nature.
Tess needs another job, but she prefers rural, outdoors work, as her only experiences with society have been negative. She could have returned to Talbothays but could not bear it for many reasons. She decides to go to a farm recommended by Marian, who is working there now.
The outdoors life is the only one Tess knows, and she knows she would suffer even more if kept inside and stifled by humanity's unfairness.
Tess begins to lose hope and rambles onward as thoughtlessly as a “wild animal.” She often draws unwanted attention from men because of her beauty, but the worst incident occurs one afternoon, when a man greets her on the road and then recognizes her from Trantridge. It is the same man that Angel struck for insulting her. He mocks her again and Tess runs away into the woods. She makes a nest of leaves and falls asleep.
She seems to be returning to wild nature in her depression, reverting to the primitive pagan state of the ancients and fleeing from humanity into the forest. Her “nest” again associates Tess with birds, but it also recalls the bed of leaves Alec made for her that night in The Chase.
Tess thinks of Angel far away and feels that she is the most unhappy thing in the world. She repeats “All is vanity” to herself, but then sees that it is worse, there is injustice and important things that are taken away, and Tess wishes she was dead.
One of her lowest moments, when she can truly appreciate the cruelty of her fate. Vanity would not be so bad, but instead there is love, and then love ruined and taken away.
Tess starts to hear a strange sound, but when she realizes it is coming from animals she is not afraid. Dawn breaks and she sees that around her are pheasants, some dead, some injured and in pain, that a hunting party must have shot the day before and left behind. Tess has always been afraid of hunters, as she could not understand their desire to kill those creatures weaker than themselves.
Tess only fears humans now. She is again associated with birds, this time united with them in their sufferings at the hands of unsympathetic men. The hunters recall Alec and the other men that have abused their power over helpless Tess.
Tess feels akin to the pheasants in their suffering and she breaks the necks of the wounded ones to end their misery. She then feels guilty that she had been so depressed the night before, as at least she has not been shot and left for dead, and the shame that tortures her is based only on an arbitrary social convention, not any inherent law of Nature.
Tess appears as a benevolent, godlike figure, mercifully ending the pheasants' misery. (Later she herself will welcome death as an escape from misery.) She now realizes that most of her suffering comes from her society's condemnation of her. She knows she is at heart still innocent.