The narrator muses on Tess's plight. She has finally found maturity, but her path to it has rendered her crippled for a life in society. She would be right to be angry at God for placing her in such a harsh situation. Tess spends the winter doing housework and making clothes out of Alec's old gifts.
Again Hardy as narrator complains about the injustice of Tess's fate. He acts as her only advocate against an unfair god or destiny, and an unnecessarily judgmental world.
Tess muses on the important dates in her life, and realizes that she cannot know the last important date, the day of her death. With such thoughts she grows into a “complex woman,” with a tragic and wise demeanor. She has remained so aloof for so long that most of her community has forgotten about her scandal, but Tess still feels uncomfortable in Marlott. She thinks she could be happy somewhere else where she could escape the past, though, and that far away she could somehow regain her chastity.
Tess joins in the narrator's musings and puts her life in perspective. She knows the day of her death is inevitable, as were perhaps the misfortunes that have already befallen her. Society's judgment of her is ingrained within Tess as much as it exists in the external community, so she will not be free until she can forgive herself as well as physically escape.
Tess waits a long time for an opportunity, until in May she gets a letter that a milkmaid is needed at a dairy called Talbothays, many miles away. Tess resolves to no longer dream of d'Urbervilles and castles, but to accept her role as a worker. She cannot help but be intrigued by Talbothays proximity to the ancient d'Urberville estates, though. The thought of being in her ancestral land seems like a good omen, and gives her hope for the future.
Despite the bad things that have happened to her, Tess can't help feeling optimistic when the future means Spring and a place far from her troubles. She has grown from an innocent girl to a complicated woman, and found great fortitude in her trials, but Tess still has enough youth to feel hopeful.