Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles Chapter 51 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Old Lady-Day arrives, and everyone is changing farm locations. The Durbeyfields, though slightly above the peasant class, are now looked down on because they don't directly work their land. The village also disapproves of the household's shiftlessness, drunkenness, and Tess's scandals, so no one will help them from being evicted.
Tess would have already had a hard life based only on her family's faults. The community's judgment of her troubles adds on to the general feeling that Marlott would be better off without the Durbeyfields.
Themes
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The night before they depart, Tess is home alone, feeling guilty for her part in the family's situation, as some villagers had recently shamed her mother for “harboring” her. She is so absorbed that she doesn't notice Alec until he knocks at the window.
Earlier the villagers seemed to have forgotten her shame, but now she has a reputation as a “fallen woman” and so they brings real suffering upon her family with their judgment.
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Tess says she thought he was a carriage passing by, and Alec tells her the story of the d'Urberville coach. Some past d'Urberville supposedly kidnapped a beautiful woman in his coach, and as she was trying to escape he accidentally killed her, or else she killed him. Since then it is a bad omen if a d'Urberville hears a phantom coach.
The story Angel alluded to regarding the d'Urberville coach is finally finished, and the legends itself foreshadows the novel's final murder. Alec laughs it off, but he is not a true d'Urberville and cannot know his own fate.
Themes
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Tess admits that her family is being kicked out because she is not a “proper woman,” and Alec is enraged at the villagers. Tess says they are going to Kingsbere where the d'Urberville tombs lay, and Alec offers that they stay at his estate instead. He says he will clean the house and expect their coming, as he owes her for the past and also for curing him of Christianity. Tess says she has money if she asks for it from her father-in-law, but Alec knows she will never ask. As he leaves he passes the man who paints Bible quotes, and curses at him.
Alec is upset at her misfortunes that he himself caused. Tess's dignity and loyalty again do battle within her, as she wants to be independent of Alec but her family's situation keeps getting worse. It seems only a matter of time before she gives in to the inevitable, just like she helplessly accepted Angel's marriage proposal despite her qualms.
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Women Theme Icon
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Tess suddenly feels the injustice of her situation, and realizes how harsh Angel has been to her. She has never intended to do wrong, and yet she has been condemned so many times for sins that were not her own.
Tess finally begins to see clearly in her sadness, and she nears Hardy's perspective on the unfairness of fate, society, and Angel.
Themes
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Tess writes a sudden, passionate letter to Angel, lamenting how badly he has treated her. She says she can never forgive him for his cruel and unjust actions, and she will try to forget him. She hurriedly delivers it to be mailed and does not feel guilty.
Tess takes up agency in her life as a victim and as a wife, finally refusing to submit to her husband and no longer accepting constant shame for a sin she did not even commit.
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The children gather around and Tess reminds them that this is their last night at home, and they sing a song about the harsh world and hope for a better heaven. Tess wishes she could believe the words of the song, but to her life has been nothing but an ordeal and no afterlife could undo her suffering.
The children are still full of hope that even if the world is cruel, God will reward them later, but Tess has lost that innocence. Even if there is a heaven, it would only be a bandage for her wounds.
Themes
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Paganism and Christianity Theme Icon
Joan returns and hears that a gentleman has been by. She thinks it was Tess's husband, but Tess says he will never return. She cannot help but feel that Alec is more truly her husband than Angel is.
Tess is still troubled by the idea that Alec “owns” her, but it makes sense in a society where a woman's "purity" and therefore her ability to marry is wholly dependent on whether or not she has had sex (even if she didn't want or intend to have sex and was raped). In such a society, the man who rapes her becomes her "husband" because society won't let her have any other.
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Women Theme Icon