Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chickens Tess is supposed to care for live in a cottage that was once someone's home but is now overgrown with ivy. She works for a while and is then told to bring the birds to Mrs. d'Urberville. Tess learns for the first time that Mrs. d'Urberville is blind, and again feels uneasy.
Tess's job as a caretaker of birds fits with her image as both a symbol of the natural world and a pagan Nature goddess. Mrs. d'Urberville's blindness means that she too is probably helpless to control Alec.
Themes
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Paganism and Christianity Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Mrs. d'Urberville is waiting in an armchair, and she speaks to Tess but makes no mention of the d'Urberville name. She takes each fowl in her lap and checks it over with her hands. They go through all of the chickens in the cottage, and the process reminds Tess of a religious Confirmation ceremony, in which Mrs. d'Urberville is the bishop, Tess is the parson, and the fowls are the children being presented.
Relating the odd ceremony of the chickens to a religious rite explicitly brings up the theme of Paganism and Christianity. Tess's frame of reference is a Christian ceremony, but the fact that it is taking place with birds recalls a religion more in touch with nature.
Themes
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Paganism and Christianity Theme Icon
Mrs. d'Urberville asks Tess if she can whistle, and Tess admits that she can. Mrs. d'Urberville asks her to whistle songs to the bullfinches every day. The maid mentions that Alec has been whistling to them lately, and Mrs. d'Urberville reacts negatively to his name. Tess has not yet noticed that there was no mention of her kinship, but she now sees that the mother and son d'Urberville do not get along.
Tess whistling to the bullfinches is another example of her oneness with the natural world, and the beginning of her association with bird imagery. Mrs. d'Urberville's reaction to Alec's name seems to confirm the suspicion that she disapproves of his actions but has little control over them.
Themes
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Tess feels better the next morning and starts to practice her whistling. Alec suddenly appears, complimenting her beauty and sarcastically calling her “Cousin.” He offers to help her, and avoids her refusal by promising to stay on the other side of the fence. Tess laughs and blushes but finally manages to produce a clear note. Alec says that Tess is a “temptation as never before fell to mortal man,” but that he won't try to seduce her again. He warns that his mother is a strange woman, and tells Tess if she has any trouble to come to him.
Alec again draws attention to the disparity of power in their interactions. When he calls Tess a “temptation” it again frames her in religious terms, but also places her in an unwilling and passive role. She does not intend to be a temptation, but he sees her as such and holds it against her. This foreshadows her later forced “sins.”
Themes
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Paganism and Christianity Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
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Tess begins to adjust to her position and to Alec's presence. He teases her carefully and she gradually becomes less shy, but Alec is also in an extra position of power because Tess is basically his employee. Whistling to the bullfinches becomes a pleasurable job, and Tess can practice songs she learned from her mother. The birds share the same room as Mrs. d'Urberville. One day Tess is whistling and suspects that Alec is watching her from behind the bed curtains. Since then she always checks the curtains, but Alec does not try this scheme again.
The circumstances of society, wealth, and gender all work in Alec's favor against Tess. She is essentially powerless, and must rely totally on his whims and good humor. Yet she still manages to stay hopeful in her innocence, and is able to take pleasure in working with the birds.
Themes
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon