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Tess of the Durbervilles and A Thousand Splendid Suns

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In a traditional tragedy it is fate, sin, or a combination of the two that ultimately leads to the tragic events; however, Thomas Hardy and Khaled Hosseini otherwise present that the tragic fate of their female protagonist is a result of social, historical and cultural influences, the inequality of male dominance, women’s status in society, and the heroine’s character flaws. Despite the contrast between the two- Hardy writes amidst the 1800s during the Victorian England whilst Hosseini remarks on contemporary Afghanistan- both confront the reader on what ultimately causes the tragic end of their protagonist. ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ sees a young country girl suffer through the misfortunes of life- being born into a peasant family and ending up “violated by one man and forsaken by another” (Heap) , – and her circumstances eventually causing her tragic ending. ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, in contrast, focuses on the suffering of women in modern Afghanistan, where circumstances bring two women together- which alike to ‘Tess’ cause the tragic ends of Hosseini’s heroine Mariam. However Hardy and Hosseini both leave possible interpretations on the cause of tragedy of their female protagonists; with Hardy allowing the reader to question Tess’s naivety and passiveness as her greatest flaw and Mariam’s selflessness in an oppressive and cruel society having detrimental impact on her life and future.

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Even though both ‘Splendid Suns’ and ‘Tess’ are considered as tragedies, they do not follow the traditional Aristotelian tragedy. Instead Hardy once said that: “Tragedy, that is to say, tragedy expresses a man’s condition. His instincts and desire will lead to the tragic ending” which like three European writers, Anton Chekov, Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, developed the concept of modern tragedy which allowed the common man to be a tragic hero. Hardy particularly portrays his average protagonist –Tess- to demise by her own failings; for example, her innocence and naivety. Hardy particularly presents this flaw of his protagonist by the structure of his novel into seven phases, with each section illustrating the seven stages of Tess’s life, for example the 1st and 2nd phases called ‘The Maiden’ and ‘Maiden No More’ . This portrays a sense of journey through Tess’s life and the distinct change of her character due to her inexperience society, which is evident through critics approaches to the text, ‘The story leaps into the second phase ’Maiden No More’- as if Tess’s character change has taken place on the bare page between the two phases.’ This critics interpretation is explored in the first phase where Hardy streamlines specific attributes of the naivety of the female protagonist- ‘approached pure blanching’ and ‘large innocent eyes‘ , which is juxtapose with the second phase of Tess’s suffering from the rape of Alec D’Urberville, ‘ I was a child when I left this house… Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me? […] I never had a chance of learning…’ Hardy reinforces the characterisation of Tess’s inexperience by the adjective ‘innocent’ and ‘pure’, all attributes of traditional Victorian standards of women. Whilst the phrase ‘I was a child’ represents her nativity and unawareness of society. Yet, Hardy juxtaposed this portrayal of Tess’s character with the personal noun ‘I’ and the past tense of ‘ I was’ which presents the critics view. The past tense demonstrates the female protagonist distinct change in her character in between the two phases, whilst the personal noun implies the acknowledgement from Tess, though emphasises to the reader, of her naïve and innocence to society is the her flaw that causes her tragic ends.  

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