Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Prince the Horse Symbol Analysis

Prince the Horse Symbol Icon
Prince is the Durbeyfield family horse, and their principal means of livelihood. When Tess accidentally causes his death, she feels guilty enough to go work for the d'Urbervilles, which begins the action of the story. Prince acts as a symbol of the d'Urberville family, in that he has a noble name but is reduced to menial labor to survive. His death is also a symbol of the theme of Nature versus modernity, as Prince the rural horse is gored to death by a modern mail cart. The death by stabbing and his blood spreading over Tess's white dress foreshadows Alec's murder as well.

Prince the Horse Quotes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

The Tess of the d'Urbervilles quotes below all refer to the symbol of Prince the Horse. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Tess of the d'Urbervilles published in 2003.
Chapter 4 Quotes

The morning mail-cart, with its two noiseless wheels, speeding along these lanes like an arrow, as it always did, had driven into her slow and unlighted equipage. The pointed shaft of the cart had entered the breast of the unhappy Prince like a sword, and from the wound his life's blood was spouting in a stream, and falling with a hiss into the road. In her despair Tess sprang forward and put her hand upon the hole, with the only result that she became splashed from face to skirt with the crimson drops.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield
Related Symbols: Prince the Horse
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tess's family horse, Prince, is killed by the shaft of a mail-cart--a highly symbolic tableau. Prince is a symbol of the "old England"--the England of forests, May-Day, nature, etc. The mail-cart, on the other hand, represents industrialization in all its aspects: its insensitivity to people and animals, its cruel efficiency, etc. Thus, for the cart to kill Tess's horse symbolizes the rise of industrialization during the period when the novel is set. Furthermore, the highly sexualized language of the passage might be said to represent the terrors of sex and masculinity. Tess is a young, virginal girl, unaccustomed to interactions with men. Here, the mail-cart seems like a hyper-masculinized figure, piercing the horse with its phallic shaft. Tess sees the horse's death as a nightmarish spectacle, perhaps foreshadowing her later experience with sexuality as violence.


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Prince the Horse Symbol Timeline in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

The timeline below shows where the symbol Prince the Horse appears in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
They hitch up Prince the horse, who is as old and rickety as their cart. Abraham is still half-asleep.... (full context)
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
...her and her family. She falls asleep. She is then awakened suddenly to find that Prince has been gored to death by the shaft of the swift and silent morning mail-cart.... (full context)
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
...has to go on and deliver the mail. Tess is left behind, and she watches Prince's blood congeal and feels extremely guilty for his death. She is ashamed that the day... (full context)
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...their cart and delivers the beehives, and that evening a wagon comes by to bring Prince's body back to Marlott. Tess returns to find her parents already know what happened. They... (full context)
Chapter 5
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...and proposes her plan to Tess. Tess protests at first, but feels so guilty about Prince's death that she agrees to see Mrs. d'Urberville. She warns her mother to not think... (full context)
Chapter 6
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Paganism and Christianity Theme Icon
After thinking again of Prince's death and being teased by her younger siblings, Tess finally agrees to go. She warns... (full context)
Chapter 8
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
...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... (full context)