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Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure

Compromising Female Characters in Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure

The novels of Thomas Hardy are intricate and complicated works whose plots seem to be completely planned before the first word is ever actually formed on paper. Though I have no proof of Hardy’s method of writing, it is clear that he focuses more on plot development than characterization in the novels Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. The advantages of this can be easily seen in the clever twists and turns that occur in the novel which hold the reader’s interest. But the main reason Hardy uses this method, especially in the tragedies Tess and Jude, is to present a moral argument to the reader through actions done by and to the main characters of the novels. By mapping out the turning points ahead of time, Hardy is able to control the course of his writings, and they emerge as a social criticism. But in doing this, the characters are condemned to a literary predestination. Hardy concentrates more on forcing the characters to carry out these actions than allowing their personalities to become fully and freely developed. Females perform most of the necessary but unlikely actions, and Hardy blames any erratic behavior on woman’s natural inconsistency. Thus, in reaching for a high literary purpose Hardy inadvertently stunts the development of the main female characters.

Jude the Obscure is designed to show the faults and repercussions of religious and social conventions, with an emphasis on marriage. According to Hardy, short-lived impulses cause people to marry, which binds couples together until their deaths. When these feelings of affection fade, they must live together i…

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…nally draw the attention of a man she has no desire to be with, he turns her character into a tease. She begins to be seen as a comic character and less respect is given to her. She is just another female character used to make the machinery of Hardy’s novels function, and takes on a more mechanical and stereotypical countenance as a result.

Hardy’s intentions are noble. He tries to show the reasons for giving more social freedom to everyone, females in particular, but compromises their characters in the process. The novels would benefit by far if there was a more spontaneous atmosphere and the characters were allowed free reign to develop unhindered, but the novels could result in the loss of such powerful moral messages. So, changing the characters could endanger the novels’ importance in history, but would definitely improve the overall reading experience.

The Impact of Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, and Local Color on The Awakening

Four major literary movements can claim some aspect of The Awakening, for in this “small compass . . . [is illustrated] virtually all the major American intellectual and literary trends of the nineteenth century” (Skaggs, 80). The Romantic movement marked a profound shift in sensibilities away from the Enlightenment. It was inspired by reaction to that period’s concepts of clarity, order, and balance, and by the revolutions in America, France, Poland, and Greece. It expressed the assertion of the self, the power of the individual, a sense of the infinite, and transcendental nature of the universe. Major themes included the sublime, terror, and passion. The writing extolled the primal power of nature and the spiritual link between nature and man, and was often emotional, marked by a sense of liberty, filled with dreamy inner contemplations, exotic settings, memories of childhood, scenes of unrequited love, and exiled heroes.

In America, Romanticism coalesced into a distinctly “American” ideal: making success from failure, the immensity of the American landscape, the power of man to conquer the land, and “Yankee” individualism. The writing was also marked by a type of xenophobia. Protestant America was faced with an influx of Catholic refugees from the Napoleonic Wars, of Asian workers who constructed the railroads, and the lingering issue of Native Americans. An insular attitude developed, the “us and them” in Whitman. The major writers of the period were Irving, Cooper, Emerson, Poe, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Whitman, Dickinson, and Melville.

There are various romantic elements in The Awakening. Perhaps the most obvious and elemental are the exotic locale, use of color, and heavy emphasis on nature (cl…

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…cause Robert to leave.

Works Cited and Consulted

Chopin, Kate, The Awakening; A Solitary Soul. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992

Delbanco, Andrew. “The Half-Life of Edna Pontellier.” New Essays on The Awakening. Ed. Wendy Martin. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. 89-106.

Koloski, Bernard, ed. Preface. Approaches to Teaching Chopin’s The Awakening. By Koloski. New York: MLA, 1988.

Martin, Wendy, ed. New Essays on the Awakening. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

May, John R. “Local Color in The Awakening.” Culley, 189-95.

Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.

– – -. “Kate Chopin and the American Realists.” Culley 180-6.

Skaggs, Peggy. “Three Tragic Figures in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.” Louisiana Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South 4 (1974): 345-64.

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