Theme of Destiny in ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’: Critical Analysis
Throughout the novels, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’ the theme of destiny is prominent, although they are of contrasting genres. Hardy has written a pastoral novel which recounts the life of Tess in the countryside of the 19th century, where we see the writer is concerned with the changes of rural life, although unlike a straightforward pastoral, there doesn’t appear to be an idyllic lifestyle for the young woman. It is also conspicuous that the genre of the novel is tragedy, which was common among literary authors in the Victorian era, therefore Hardy demonstrates his typical style of writing. Ishiguro presents a dystopian fiction as we get an insight to a frightening community, as Kathy and her friends are destined to become donors, which also portrays an element of despondency similar to ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. Both protagonists appear to begin the novel in their adolescence, which is narrated through a first-person perspective and retrospectively as Kathy reflects on memories from the Hailsham institution and describes the development of her journey as she learns to understand that their lives are preordained. The retrospective technique is effective because we obtain an understanding of her innocence and naivety as a child as Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are all unaware that they will not have the opportunity to live a healthy, conventional life. In ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, Hardy tells the story through a third person narrative which contrasts with ‘Never Let Me Go’, however we still acquire a clear overview of Tess’s life through her viewpoint, which is reinforced through a constructive use of dialogue. Similar to Kathy’s situation, it is also evident that Tess’s life has been premeditated for her, due to society roles at the time, consequently leading her family to want Tess to marry a wealthy gentleman, Alec D’Urberville. As the novels progress, we learn that both protagonists are not in control of their own destiny, with both situations resulting in the eventual tragedy of death.
One aspect of the novels we should first consider under the theme of destiny is the presentation of relationships. Within both novels the idea of love and romantic relationships are prominent, and we could easily draw a connection with the portrayal of love triangles, which eventually lead to couples based on destiny for both protagonists. This is significant in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, as we see the protagonist’s endeavour to choose between two men, Alec D’Urberville and Angel Clare, where she concludes the novel with her true lover; Angel. Despite this, both lovers represent different types of love, as we see Alec demonstrates a sexual and physical love, using Tess for pleasure, whereas Angel is ideal. As a reader, we are aware of this through Hardy’s use of setting and pathetic fallacy which present Tess’s development and current thoughts. For example, the contrast between the different stages of her life at Talbothays and Flintcomb-Ash is notable. Tess meets and falls in love with the quintessential Angel at Talbothays, and we see her satisfaction reflected through the images of the beautiful nature. The description of a ‘thyme-scented and bird-singing morning’ depicts a cheerful and optimistic mood, especially as birds are a positive motif throughout the novel, symbolising hope and liberation. In comparison, the season is winter at Flintcomb-Ash, and Hardy furthermore depicts a sense of sorrow through the hardship of Tess’s job (a ‘starve-acre place’), and the frequent unanticipated visits from Alec as she deals with her heart-break with Angel.
Whilst ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ shows destiny and the love triangle through the principal character’s struggle to discover the ideal partner, within the patriarchal and a hierarchy society, ‘Never Let Me Go’ recounts the narrator’s sense of jealousy towards her friends Ruth and Tommy who become a romantic couple. It is evident in both novels that the protagonists aren’t completely in control of their fortune in love, however they do find each other in the end.
Ishiguro effectively uses dialogue in order to present the development of relationships. A close connection between Kathy and Tommy is revealed from the opening as she recalls a time he confided in her, with the conversation by the pond at Hailsham. Tommy directly tells Kathy ‘You’ve not to breathe a word. You’ve got to really promise’, which shows a sense of desperation, but the trust here demonstrates there is a strong bond amongst the pair. This is effective through the retrospective narrative as this later explains that fate had allowed them to become an intimate couple. Ishiguro establishes a close friendship between Kathy and Ruth and the fact that they often discuss Tommy is notable as we get an insight to their true feelings towards him. Towards the end of Part One, Kathy considers starting a sexual relationship with Tommy, where we see a sense of tension between the girls. Kathy states ‘I probably am the best person. Talking to Tommy and all that’. Ishiguro’s use of punctuation mid-sentence is effective because he demonstrates that Kathy feels uncomfortable admitting that she and Tommy have better conversations, and the pause conveys how the protagonist had to think carefully about how she phrased her thoughts. There is an element of destiny in this scene as the metaphor ‘natural successor’ is repeated, which implies that she will become Tommy’s girlfriend after Ruth. Moreover, we could say the word ‘natural’ presents the idea of fate and predestination, which I explain later as I discuss passivity in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’.
In ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ the notion of love and relationships is complex as Hardy shows that Tess is destined to be with Alec due to conventionality at the time, although she only truly falls in love with Angel. Tess is an innocent young woman, like Kathy, therefore we can say that they are similar in the way they are unexperienced with love. Hardy uses the character of Alec to represent the typical wealthy and handsome man during the 19th century, and this is reinforced through Tess’s family’s desire for her to marry this son of a merchant. He has ‘almost swarthy complexion, with full lips… above which was a well-groomed moustache’. This description clearly conveys Alec’s sensual nature and narcissism, and this is later reinforced as Tess often rejects him and he persists to pursue her love. During the same scene, he refers to Tess as ‘a big Beauty’ when questioning what he can do for her, which is candid for their first encounter, as he reveals his material power over Tess. We could state that this emphasises the dependency of a woman on men at the time of the novel, and the fact he says ‘Beauty’, which Hardy presents through capitalisation, conveys his desperation for her love. The fact Alec is so direct towards Tess from the outset, suggests that he is exploiting her for his own needs. Consequently, from the beginning we notice that this won’t be a couple based on destiny, but instead an affair which will benefit the satisfaction of the sexual manipulator, in addition to his finance and status. According to Margaret Elvy, Hardy uses feminist theory to demonstrate his understanding of sexual difference and sexual desire, and she disagrees with some feminist critics about the belief that Hardy has a ‘natural empathy’ with women. We could agree with this critical point because it is clear that the author is presenting the superiority of men within society. However, we could also argue the fact that Tess has the admiration from two lovers, depicts that she is the dominant figure of her fate and romance.
Similar to ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, ‘Never Let Me Go’ is a Bildungsroman which is a tale about Kathy growing up and finding herself, and we could say both protagonists represent innocence throughout their journey to becoming a mature adult. This is specifically shown when Ruth and Tommy split up, and Kathy states that she ‘found [herself] thinking about it a lot’. It is possible to interpret this as Kathy discovering her intimate feelings towards Tommy for the first time, in addition to the idea that she feels a sense of remorse about the way he was treated by Ruth during the graveyard scene. The love triangle breaking is predominantly apparent in this episode, even the setting of a graveyard is symbolic of decay and death, in this case of a relationship. The incident is significant for the theme of destiny, as this is the beginning of Kathy’s opportunity to become closer to Tommy. Here we see Ruth criticising Tommy’s drawing and brings Kathy into the situation declaring ‘Kathy finds your animals a complete hoot’, implying a feeling of irritation, perhaps towards his immaturity. Through retrospect, it is evident that the narrator regrets her decision to agree with Ruth, a manipulative character throughout the novel. The phrase ‘Of course I feel bad about it’ contains monosyllabic words, and it’s as if she’s speaking to the reader who has questioned her sincerity, which we could link with literary critics’ belief that Kathy is an ‘unreliable narrator’ because she doesn’t always reveal the truth. Despite this, we must empathise with Kathy because it’s clear that she and her friends have lived in oblivion about their future, therefore themselves are unaware of the verity.
Furthermore, following the dispute in ‘Never Let Me Go’ the idea of fate is very prominent through Ishiguro using Ruth to admit that Tommy and Kathy should have been a couple all along; ‘the main thing is, I kept you and Tommy apart’. It is clear that she feels that she interrupted their chance at romance which they had been destined for since childhood, which reinforces the use of memories and reflecting on the past in this novel. She pleads for forgiveness and encourages the pair to try and get a deferral, which was promised for couples who are truly in love; ‘If it’s you two, there’s got to be a chance. A real chance’. The repetition of the word ‘chance’ here emphasises how this is the only possible opportunity for Kathy and Tommy to be in control of their future and destiny. We could connect this idea with M John Harrison’s belief that the novel is about ‘the steady erosion of hope’ because by the end, they are told that there isn’t an opportunity for them to receive a deferral, therefore their destiny had already been predetermined. Moreover, the word ‘erosion’ demonstrates how their lives are destroyed both physically, as they must die at an early age, but also emotionally as the characters need to comprehend this despairing news.
Despite the fact that Kathy and Tommy’s fate are due to the science development at the time, we can still draw similarities with Hardy’s novel, as Tess and Angel are also brought together eventually through destiny, however we could this is as a result of the woman pursuing her desire within the patriarchal society. With both protagonists earning the love that they had wished for which to a happy ending romantically, we could link this contextually as Ishiguro writes based on the tradition of realist novels. Therefore, he is influenced by authors such as Brontë which is also situated in the Victorian era, like Hardy, meaning that the presentation of destiny and love is similar in both novels, as shown through love triangles.
As Hardy describes the romantic relationship between Tess and Angel, he states that ‘she was the chosen one’ which instantly reveals her fortune and destiny. This phrase evokes religious ideas, with the Calvinist belief of predestination known as a strong theory within the religious Victorian England, stating that God has already chosen the future for virtuous humans. Despite this, Tess’s fate doesn’t appear entirely straightforward, as she feels a sense of guilt and therefore must ‘pay to the uttermost farthing’. The superlative ‘uttermost’ refers to Angel, therefore it is clear that he has dominance in this situation, and that Tess must show her gratitude financially. We can draw parallels with ‘Never Let Me Go’ based on the concept of predestination, as the Hailsham students have also been selected for a useful purpose, although this is due to scientific as supposed to social or class reasons.
An additional point which is associated which the theme of destiny, is passivity, which is emphasised in both novels through the characters tolerating their fate. Whilst passivity is mostly shown in ‘Never Let Me Go’ through the acceptance of their purpose in science, and the fact that they are preordained to die prematurely, Hardy presents Tess as a passive character as she submits to her family’s desires. Furthermore, another difference is eminent between both novels which is the fact that Kathy must follow her fate and the future path that is set out for them, whereas Tess is able to make her own life decisions to some extent. For example, who she would like to marry, despite who her family prefer, which is clearly proven as she chooses Angel in the end. During the 19th century, due to marriage conventions, women were socially influenced and culturally trained to be domestic, therefore with Tess as a representation of an archetypal Victorian woman, she had the duty to marry a man who is socially superior.
I believe that passivity is a principal theme in ‘Never Let Me Go’ which links well with destiny, as the novel is primarily about becoming donors and ‘completing’, which is the purpose of their lives at Hailsham. The novel opens with Kathy explaining her situation working as carer in her adulthood, where she appears proud and content, stating ‘I do know for a fact they’ve been pleased with my work… and I have too’. This conveys how the protagonist is enjoying her and is doing what she is expected, without complaining. Also, it’s significant that this beginning is in the present, showing her current outlook on her life, and now after reading the whole novel, we can easily say that she had come to terms with her fate. Although we aren’t aware of what is ahead of Kathy’s life, the mention of ‘donors’ is evident from the outset. Moreover, she is reunited with her friends which causes her to reminisce on her childhood at Hailsham, which Ishiguro presents in the past tense through memories and flashbacks.
Kathy also shows optimism and passivity when she explains what is approaching for her near future; ‘I won’t be a carer any more come the end of the year, and though I’ve got a lot out of it, I have to admit I’ll welcome the chance to rest’. The words ‘I’ll have to admit’ demonstrates an informal tone as if Kathy is speaking directly to the reader, perhaps highlighting that she doesn’t want any sympathy as she is now pleased with her life. In addition to Kathy, even Ruth who generally appears as a pessimist throughout the novel learns to accept her fate as she tells Tommy, ‘I was pretty much ready when I became a donor’, it felt right’ which evokes a gentle tone, as if Ruth is admitting that she is completing her purpose in life. The fact that the characters refer to themselves as ‘donors’ is almost ironic, because scientifically this means a voluntary act of giving, whilst Ishiguro has presented them as being compelled to donate (‘what we’re supposed to do’), emphasising that they aren’t capable of being in control of their destiny.
Whilst the idea of passivity is portrayed by Ishiguro through using dialogue in order to prove characters’ attitudes towards their fate, in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles, we are aware of Tess’s submissive behaviour through her actions and changes in location and the settings. An example of this is at the beginning of the novel when Tess is obliged by her parents to visit the D’Urbervilles’ household, indicating that she is accepting her fate, in which she has a lack of control due to social conventions. In Victorian England, parents taught their children important information to strive within their social class while dealing with cultural expectations. In this scene, we see Tess sacrificing herself for her family, which is possible to compare with ‘Never Let Me Go’ as the characters have no choice but to become donors, as that is their motive in the world. Similarly, Tess has a purpose which has already been predestined; to marry a wealthy man.
One of the key scenes which presents Tess’s passivity is in Phase the First, following the protagonist’s first encounter with Alec, and the incident of the strawberries. Here Hardy uses omniscient narration which provides the reader with a different perspective, as opposed to Tess’s own viewpoint, by explaining that Alec will play a significant role in her destiny. After Alec feeds Tess the first strawberry, Hardy describes her as ‘half-reluctant’ indicating her discomfort, as he is a manipulative character, even after she stated ‘I would rather take it in my own hand’. This clearly emphasises that women’s voices were disregarded during the Victorian era, and that the man’s wishes always came first. Hardy’s use of imagery of strawberries is symbolic because the colour red is associated with passion, therefore we see Alec’s desire towards Tess. Nevertheless, we see Tess being passive as Hardy states that Alec continues to fill her basket with fruit, in which she ‘obeyed like one in a dream’. Through this simile, we get the impression that she is naïve therefore submissive to a young gentleman seducing her, which then unfortunately leads to her being raped.
Finally, it is essential to consider the connection between the representation of death and destiny in these novels. In both novels, the protagonists experience short lives, and although we are never assuredly told in ‘Never Let Me Go’ that Kathy dies, this is a predetermined circumstance throughout her story, as they all must ‘complete’ one day. This is particularly portrayed in the final chapter as she admits she has lost everything; ‘I lost Ruth, then I lost Tommy… and I suppose I lost Hailsham too’. In essence, Kathy has been surrounded by deaths of assets which had played an important role in her destiny, and states that the only remaining aspects of her life are ‘memories’. The notion of mortality is inevitable for the characters, with Ishiguro having written a novel based on science-fiction explaining that they are born for medical purpose, which we could say is similar in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles, where a chain of events naturally leads to Tess’s tragic death. Contextually, many tragic novels ended with the protagonist’s demise. All the minor catastrophes including the deaths of Prince and Sorrow and Tess’s rape are connected to her hanging at the end of the novel. We could say this finale is effective as Hardy has succeeded to present that destiny is responsible for the cause of many of life’s tragedies, and that punishment awaits those who make immoral decisions, even if this is an act of protection; murdering Alec.
In spite of the fact we could argue that Tess’s fate and personal desire to be reunited in a couple with Angel conducts her to commit Alec’s murder, many readers would state that she is an innocent young woman, who was only defending herself. Jakob Lothe believes that ‘tragedy exhibits a state of things in the life of an individual which unavoidably causes some natural aim or desire’ which almost vindicates Tess’s act of murder, and the inevitability of her urge to do so, following the previous tragedies that she had suffered. In the final chapter, Tess is absent from the scene, which allows Hardy to reinforce the reality of the tragedy. The phrase ‘’Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals had ended his sport with Tess’ is extremely significant as a sense of irony is conveyed through the quotation marks of ‘’justice’’. Hardy’s mocking tone indicates the unjust consequence for the protagonist, and perhaps that her destiny hadn’t been fulfilled.
Similarly, in ‘Never Let Me Go’, death is a prominent motif depicting the character’s destiny. This is particularly conspicuous at Hailsham when the students are told by Miss Lucy; ‘Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults… before you’re even middle-aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs’. Here there is an emphasis on the pronoun ‘you’ which hints at the idea that they have been taught to feel special and unique, but in reality, no substantial futures await the children. Furthermore, with the word ‘will’ we can infer a sense of certainty that they will donate, and consequently die. Through the emphasis on ‘vital organs’, Ishiguro presents their importance in life, which is significant because over the latest centuries, doctors have discovered the possibility of transplanting an organ from a living or a recently deceased body into another human.
To conclude, I believe that both novels, ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro and ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy, present the theme of destiny in a similar way, despite the genres and the period in which the novels were written, serve as complete contrasts. As a whole, we can draw connections between the approach to love and relationships, because in both novels we see the protagonists end up in a relationship with their ideal partner, however they are unable to pursue this romance due to death. In ‘Never Let Me Go’, Kathy finally begins a love affair with Tommy, a moment that she had been yearning, however this is hindered as they are unable to get a deferral, and Tommy is approaching the end of his life. Contrastingly, in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, the protagonist herself dies, therefore Tess is unable to continue a future with Angel. This is representative of the tragic novel, as she murders Alec in order to be with Angel, but sadly she is punished, despite having being mistreated by the D’Urberville. Overall, both characters, Kathy and Tess, are passive as it’s evident that their destiny and lives have been predetermined. In ‘Never Let Me Go’, this is due to the genre of science-fiction, meaning that they were born to become donors, as they are told at Hailsham; ‘lives are set out for [them]’. In contrast, Hardy presents Tess as submissive to her fate, due to marriage conventions of the Victorian era, and the patriarchal society which signified that women must obey to men. Despite this, by the end of the novel, we could argue that Tess follows her own desires and challenges the customs of society, as she is united with the man of her dreams.
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