Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Tess and Alec ride away from the green Vale and into the gray unknown. Alec drives recklessly and Tess is still wary since Prince's death, so she asks him to slow down. He responds by teasing her with stories that his horse has already killed one man. Alec goes downhill at a terrifying gallop, and Tess clings to his arm. He asks her to hold onto his waist instead, as he is using the reins. When they reach the bottom Tess lets go and gets angry when she realizes how he has tricked her.
They leave behind the agricultural past and drive into the troubles of the modern age. Alec uses his natural recklessness to his advantage, but he does not yet understand just how inexperienced and modest Tess really is. They come from two different worlds, and he cannot comprehend her innocence.
Themes
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
They start to go down another hill but this time Tess won't hold onto Alec. Instead he asks if he can kiss her. When she refuses he makes the horse go faster, and finally she agrees, looking like a frightened animal. Alec slows the cart and tries to kiss her, but she unconsciously avoids him again. He curses and Tess starts to cry, pleading that she doesn't want to be kissed. Alec gives her “the kiss of mastery” anyway.
“The kiss of mastery” prefigures the terrible act to come—Alec's rape of Tess—and shows Tess as a victim of male dominance. Tess is portrayed as an animal being teased by a cruel human, and so again stands as an image for the purer natural world.
Themes
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Unconsciously Tess wipes her cheek with her handkerchief, which makes Alec angry. He insists that she has undone the kiss, and he must have another one. At that moment Tess's hat blows off, and she makes him stop the cart. Once she retrieves her hat she refuses to get back on, saying that she will walk the rest of the way. Alec realizes she has tricked him and starts to curse at her.
That the kiss can be “undone” resonates tragically with Alec's later assault, which leaves permanent damage. By leaving the cart Tess is able to achieve some agency in the situation and retain her dignity, even though it means walking for miles.
Themes
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Tess yells an insult back at Alec and his anger suddenly dissolves. He tries to convince her to get back on the cart but she will not, even though now he feels ashamed and would not have tried any more seduction. Tess wishes she could return home, but reminds herself that she is doing this for her family. Finally the Slopes and the poultry-farm appear in the distance.
Alec's fickle nature is revealed in his swift emotional shifts. Tess continues her proud walk apart from Alec's cart, innocently asserting her independence from his wealthy male authority. Her trials have begun now, so she is fully acting as a sacrificial figure for her family's benefit.
Themes
Paganism and Christianity Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
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