Tess of the d'Urbervilles


Thomas Hardy

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Imagery 3 key examples

Definition of Imagery
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... read full definition
Chapter 16
Explanation and Analysis—Tess's New Beginning:

In Chapter 16, the narrator describes the Vale of Little Dairies as full of wide open spaces. This spatial imagery mirrors Tess's current journey—both physical and emotional—which, in her mind, will provide her with new opportunities and freedom:

[The Vale of Little Dairies] lacked the intensely blue atmosphere of the rival Vale, and its heavy soils and scents; the new air was clear, bracing, ethereal. The river itself, which nourished the grass and cows of these renowned dairies, flowed not like streams in Blackmoor. Those were slow, silent, often turbid; flowing over beds of mud into which the incautious wader might sink and vanish unawares. The Var waters were clear as the pure River of Life shown to the Evangelist.

The imagery associated with Blackmoor Vale—turbid waters and a blue, melancholy atmosphere—mirrors Tess's tragic experiences there. By contrast, the imagery associated with the new Vale—clear, pure water and fresh air—establish this place as a land of new beginnings, where Tess can leave her old life and sorrows behind. This Vale is also the site of Tess's spiritual salvation, where she too may drink from the waters of the "River of Life," which is a biblical allusion that refers to salvation through Jesus Christ, preached and foretold by the "Evangelist" John the Baptist.

Chapter 27
Explanation and Analysis—Tess and the Snake:

In the following passage from Chapter 27, Angel catches Tess off-guard. The narrator uses a simile to liken Tess to a snake:

[Tess] had not heard [Angel] enter, and hardly realized his presence there. She was yawning, and he saw the red interior of her mouth as if it had been a snake’s. She had stretched one arm so high above her coiled-up cable of hair that he could see its satin delicacy above the sunburn.

Given Hardy's tendency towards biblical allusion in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, it is generally safe to assume that snake references can be connected directly back to Satan, who appeared in the form of a snake in the Garden of Eden to tempt Eve into sin. The red imagery of the snake's mouth further symbolizes desire in this passage, cementing Tess as an object of temptation from Angel's point of view.

The "coiled-up cable" of Tess's hair continues this snake imagery, evoking Medusa from Greek mythology. Originally a beautiful young woman, Medusa had sex with Poseidon in Athena's temple (in certain versions of the story, Medusa was raped). As punishment, Athena turned Medusa's hair into snakes and placed a curse upon her, making it so that no man could stare directly at her without turning to stone. Both the biblical tale and the myth evoked by this passage's snake imagery hint at Tess's secret about her rape.

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Chapter 34
Explanation and Analysis—Tess's Sins as Scarlet:

The following descriptive passage appears in Chapter 34, immediately after Tess decides to finally disclose the details of her past to Angel:

A steady crimson glare from the now flameless embers painted the sides and back of the fireplace with its colour, and the well-polished andirons, and the old brass tongs that would not meet. The underside of the mantel-shelf was flushed with the blood-coloured light, and the legs of the table nearest the fire.

The "crimson glare" from the fire reflects onto Tess, figuratively staining her with “blood-coloured light” just as Angel’s image of her will soon be stained. Various authors in the Bible use this category of visual imagery to describe the effect of sin—wrongdoings become scarlet stains upon those who were originally blameless, white as snow. Though Tess is more victim than sinner, she conceives of her sexual past as a stain on her reputation. As Tess reflects on these “sins,” the firelight literally reflects a crimson stain onto her.

Far more than symbolically staining Tess red, the firelight evokes the inferno of hell, for which some would believe Tess is destined. Such concerns are unfounded: Tess herself has done nothing wrong. The guilt she feels is the result of society’s condemnation rather than her own moral conviction.

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