A Tragic Life
Tragedy in our lives is caused not only by our direct and indirect relationships to people and events, but also by our feelings of disgust, longing, and depression over a long period of time, “Tragedy may also be created by an opposing environment either of things inherent in the universe, or of human institutions” (1895 Thomas Hardy). Whether the people or events consist of only small annoyances, they can escalate into large problems that can create, not only depression but death in one’s life. Throughout both Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, comparisons are made between the varied incidents that send both Tess and Hagar’s life into isolation and the similar causes for both of the women’s tragic life.
The fist incident that is introduced is how both Tess’s and Hagar’s deaths are similarly caused by the deceitfulness of their loved one’s, who consequently ruin their lives and isolate them from society.
The earliest tragic effect Alec has on Tess is his overpowering need for ruining her. Alec openly admits to helping Tess and her family by stating that, “Tess, your father has a new cob today…and the children have some toys” (63), but at the same time he tries to ruin her. He cannot help taking advantage of Tess and he destroys any affection she might have for him. This unfortunate flaw finally ruins her and casts her out of the social order.
Alec also tragedies Tess’s life by his constant pursuit of her for a conquest. A previous conquest to Alec, openly admits that, ” Ah, th’st think the’ beest everybody, because the’ beest first favorite with He [Alec] just now!” (58) This shows that Tess is just one of Alec’s many successes and that he has no real feeling for her, other than lust. This realization produces despair in her mind and corrupts her views on love.
Alec’s last catastrophic act on Tess is him raping her. Alec uses and tricks Tess for her body and “upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive.” (65) This deed destroys Tess and her world as she knew it to be. The act throws her from society and isolates her from her friends and family.
Like Alec, it is noticeable from the beginning that Bram sets out to ruin Hagar with his comments and public displays. Hagar first notices her depression and separation from her family on their weeding day, “Never a bell rang out when I was wed. Not even my brother set foot in the church that day.” (49) This shows the rising conflict between Hagar and her family. Her marriage to Bram is one of the first incidents that ultimately isolate and depress her.
Bram furthermore complicates and destroys Hagar’s life with his alcohol addiction. Bram rarely puts a small amount of consideration towards Hagar’s name and place in society in believing that he is, “Free to seek out his old cronies in the beer parlour, and if he came home drunk, the horses found their way home with no difficulty.”(71) This declaration shows that Bram cares nothing for Hagar and refuses to change for her.
Bram’s final heartbreaking effect on Hagar was his inability to make her feel like a woman. Even sex is depressing and tragic for Hagar. She is never able to gain pleasure or at times condolences from its act. She states that, “when he turned his hairy belly and his black thighs towards me in the night, I would lie silent.” (116) The fact that she is disgusted from it, shows how much she regrets her marriage and her isolated existence.
Hagar’s remote mental state is not solitary caused by Bram’s failure as a good husband, but also due to her isolation from her home and family.
The first event that isolates Hagar from her world is her father’s abandonment from her life. Mr. Currie honestly declares that, “If you leave this house here, and marry that fellow. I’ll disown you.” (49) The fact that she marries Bram without her father’s consent isolates her not only from her father, but her entire family as well.
Hagar future isolates herself when she is in the woods. Hagar soon begins to feel the need to human life, when she expresses that the woods seems to be “a muffling darkness, smothering and as thick as wool. I have no light. A person needs light.”(162) This effect on Hagar in her solitary confinement shows how isolation effects her brain and changes her mood into a dark and depressed condition.
Hagar’s final isolated state is seen in the nursing home where she believes that it is a, “Mausoleum, and I [Hagar], the Egyptian, mummified by my own flesh.” (96) This statement shows the ultimate effects on Hagar by how she believes she is dead and killed by her own flesh. Hagar is shown to have passed though natural mental health into a hysterical and crazed state of mind where her isolation ends in a cruel and lonesome death.
Likewise to Hagar, Tess also faces the certain gloom of an isolated existence. Tess first falls into an isolated state when she withdraws from facts and truth; where she regards, “herself in the light of a murderess.” (29) This outlook on herself shows that Tess assumes the blame for incidents out of her control, which will finally lead to a tragic and solitary death.
Tess is additionally cut off from society with her illegitimate pregnancy. Tess views her pregnancy as, “a door that will always now be shut to me. No light may ever again show its face.”(69) This view on her life shows the depression and loneliness that she feels in her somber existence.
Tess’s final stage of isolation is her separation from life on her dying bed, where she comments that, “I am alone and for once, I am afraid. Afraid of a future, never to come.” This statement shows that Tess fears for her life and is afraid of leaving the world, which is tragically ironic because Tess is never afraid of anything.
The final reason the women’s isolation is how the parents isolate the women as children and adults. Both parents are uninvolved in their child’s life and put very little thought into the feelings of others.
In the beginning of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Joan Durbeyfield is shown as a very shallow mother who believes that the only way Tess will be able to get things in life is through her body and beauty. She believes that Tess “ought to make her way with ’em, if she plays her trump card right. And if he don’t marry her afore he will after.” (44) This assumption that Alec will fall in love with Tess as soon as he sees her, shows that she is very shallow and relies heavily on appearances. This too is very tragic for Tess because her mother is leading her into the arms of a man whom she only judges on his looks and riches.
Joan Durbeyfield also adds to Tess’s tragic life by the fact that, Joan as a mother is not the brightest or the most inspirational mother to look up to. Ms. Durbeyfield puts very little thought into the possibility of future consequences or future goals, when she does things or allows situations to happen in Tess’s life. Ms. Durbeyfield openly admits that, “He [Jack Durbeyfield] went up to Rolliver’s half an hour ago. He do want to get up his strength for his journey tomorrow.” This statement shows that Ms. Durbeyfield has no thought for her future actions. Had Ms. Durbeyfield not allowed Mr. Durbeyfield to go to the pub, Tess’s isolated life would have been changed.
Ms. Durbeyfield’s ultimate and final tragic effect on Tess is the guilty pressure she places on Tess’s shoulders. Ms. Durbeyfield accuses Tess of not trying to make Alec love her and for not, “doing some good for your family instead o’ thinking only of yourself.” (72) This accusation creates tremendous guilt on Tess when it has no right to be there in the first place. Because of her mother’s pressure, Tess begins to subside in feelings of unworthiness and blame that multiply until up to the point of her horrible and lonely death.
As with Tess’s situation, Hagar also has the same type of relationship with her mother. In the beginning of The Stone Angel Hagar’s relationship with her father, Mr. Currie, is established. Mr. Currie has little trust in Hagar’s potential and dreams to become a teacher, and rather instead crushes her dreams with the excuse that he will not allow her, “to go to South Wachakwa and let all the farm boys paw you? You know nothing…You’ll not teach, miss.” (44) This lack of support for Hagar’s goals has a disastrous effect on her and her inability to accomplish her objectives in her future life, which leads her to a depressed state of mind where nothing matters.
Mr. Currie also affects and makes Hagar’s life more tragic by his mere personality. He believes that his family and the rest of the rich white community is above all the ‘half breeds and natives’. This creates many problems for Hagar, because her first love is, as what Mr. Currie calls him, “common as dirt. You’ll not marry that fellow ever.” (48) Because of his rude and racist nature Hagar has to disobey her father, even though she knows it is not proper, so that she can marry Bram Shipley. But when Hagar disobeys her father he casts her out and starts her spiral of isolation.
Mr. Currie’s final tragic effect on Hagar is that he does not accept Hagar’s children, his grandchildren, as his own, “He didn’t come though. Perhaps he didn’t feel as though Marvin were really his grandson.” (62) His refusal to see his grandsons shows that Mr. Currie is a very determined man who will hold a grudge for years. This causes a great deal of tragedy for Hagar because she is not only isolated from her family, but because she begins to feel the same way about her son, as though he was not really hers and that he was just another Shipley, like his father.
The story of both women proves that a tragic life does breed a tragic ending. Whether the causes affect us directly or indirectly, humankind is consumed by its force and power. A wise man once said that “tragedy is not what we suffer, but what we miss” For both Tess and Hagar, it was the father or mother they never had, a love they could not obtain or conquer and a life of joy and love. All of these things created a tragic life for both the women and those who surrounded them.