In society of the Victorian era was

In his novel “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” Thomas Hardy writes about
Victorian women being victims of male dominance, specifically through the
character of Tess who’s presented in a tragic light due to the dominance she
has been subjected to.  “The World’s
Wife” by Carol Ann Duffy also explores the effects of male dominance by
presenting historical figures anew for the reader to look at women that were
previously obscured behind the men who dominated their society.

 

In Hardy’s novel ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ the concept of male
domination is first explored in the Tess’ relationship with her father, John
Durbeyfield. Whilst he does not directly exert any dominance onto her his role
as the ‘shiftless head of the house’ is what predominantly controls Tess’ fate.
Due to the patriarchal society of the Victorian era all of John’s actions
inadvertently reflect upon the rest of his family, especially Tess due to her
being the oldest female. As a result of this it becomes Tess’ duty to make up
for her fathers shortcomings as his ‘shiftless’ nature implies that he is
unable to properly provide for his family. John’s indolence indirectly harms
the character of Tess, as it is what forces her to find work in a society where
she should not be relied on as the main breadwinner.  This demonstrates how the male oriented
society of the Victorian era was harmful towards females as they were often
coerced into situations that they did not want to be involved in order to
please male figures. It can also be argued that her father’s reliance on her to
provide for the household is a catalyst for Tess’ eventual downfall due to the
fact that if she did not have to find work she would’ve never experienced the
events that caused her fate. The inherent dominance that Tess’ father has over
her also strips her of what little independence a Victorian woman would have,
thus causing her to live a life that puts her parents needs before her own
forcing her to abandon aspirations of socially rising and living a better life.
Whilst Tess accepts the notion of not being independent the titular character
of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Thetis’ spends the majority of the poem trying to maintain
the little independence that she has. In the poem she is unable to live without
being in the constant fear of being attacked by an unnamed male figure that is
constantly trying to dominate her. The concept of the antagonistic character of
the poem being unnamed could be implying that they are a representation of men
in general and even though we have progressed from the male dominated society
present in ‘Tess’ society is for the most part still patriarchal. In contrast
to how the character of Tess conforms to the abuse and dominance that is placed
upon her, Thetis incessantly tries to escape the harsh reality of abuse that
the male figure tries to place upon her. In the first stanza Thetis is
initially portrayed as a sweet ‘bird in the hand of a man’. The imagery of a
bird suggests freedom and independence, as a bird is able to roam the sky as
freely as they wish. However, this idea is juxtaposed by the fact that she is ‘in
the hand of a man’ which implies any freedom is dependent on whether he allows he
to be free or not. The false security of freedom that Thetis believes she has
is quickly stripped by her dominator who

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 abuses his power and “squeeze(s)”
her with his “fist”. This initial demonstration of violence makes it obvious
that she is not in control as much as she believes to be and makes her aware of
the posing threat of violence and dominance that men pose towards her.
Similarly in ‘Tess’ the initial sexual violations of Alec towards her is what
causes the character to become more wary and uneasy in the presence of men.
Whilst Thetis does not initially accept the thought of being controlled by a
man and giving up her freedom the character of Tess never truly has any form of
freedom with her decisions constantly being manipulated to suit the needs of
the male characters in her life (i.e. her father, Alec, Angel).

 

Throughout Hardy’s novel it is reinforced that Tess is a ‘pure woman’
and is often described in a way that depicts her as innocent such as her first
introduction at the May Day dance where she is in a company of girls wearing a
white dress. The white implying purity, innocence and chastity that she is
supposed to represent. However the purity of the white is offset by the red
ribbon in her hair, red being a colour typically associated with sin, sexuality
and danger. She is described as “the only one of the white company who
could boast of such a pronounced adornment” suggesting that out of the
entire company of girls it is her fate to be tainted with the sexual violence
that she will have to face at the hands of Alec, thus the ribbon being a
physical representation the eventual ruining of her innocence. Alec first
exercises his dominance over Tess when he coerces her to eat a strawberry from
his hand and even though she is uncomfortable “in a slight distress she parted
her lips and took it in”. The verb ‘distress’ displays that she felt
uncomfortable in giving in to what Alec wanted but due to his position as a
rich, white, powerful male she felt an obligation to give in, as it is what
would be expected of a woman in Victorian society. Alec abuses his position of
being at the top of the Victorian hierarchy to abuse Tess knowing that she
would be too afraid to go against him, especially due to her position of being
poor and a woman. The red colour of the strawberry reiterates the fact that she
is in a dangerous position, which is also sexually charged as strawberry’s can
be considered to be symbolic of passion and sexual desires. This initial
violation, whilst small, displays that Alec believes he can successfully have control
over Tess, as she is unlikely to fight back against him. The peak of his
dominance and control over the character of Tess is when the implied rape
happens in ‘The Chase’. The sexual dominance and violence that Tess goes through
during the rape shows how little control that she has even over the most
intimate aspects of her life with her virtue being taken away against her will.
The rape ultimately exhibits who holds the power in their relationship. Hardy makes
it clear to the reader that Tess is unwilling in the entire situation and that “Upon
her eyelashes there lingered tears”, signifying that the event caused pain
and hurt for her. The line “Where was Tess’s guardian angel?” displays
the fact that Tess herself could not fight back against the injustice that was
happening to her and instead was hoping to rely on an ‘angel’ to save her from
the dominance exhibited by Alec. As a direct result of the rape, Tess becomes
pregnant and due to this becomes a social pariah, whilst Alec continues with
life as normal highlighting the double standards between Victorian men and
women. Even though she did not fight against Alec’s sexual dominance, Tess does
manage to insure that he doesn’t dominate every aspect of her life by refusing
to marry him despite him being her only potential suitor due to her being an “impure”
woman. This would’ve shocked Victorian reader as modern critic Ann Mickleson
put it “Tess is part of a class-conscious society, which regards the
peasant as an inferior member of society and woman as inferior to man”,
thus meaning that they wouldn’t have expected her to have her own free will to
make such a brave decision due to her lowly status. 

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