Many readers of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles believe that Alec, logically, is Tess’s opposition throughout the novel. Often, readers lose perspective of not only the negative impact Angel has on Tess’s life, but also the positive effort put forth by Alec. It seems that in the later portion of the novel, Angel and Alec exchange roles. Regardless of this trend, one must recognize the fact that both men add to the turmoil in her life and push her to make decisions that will result in her demise.
Initially, Alec is clearly Tess’s antagonist. Alec robs Tess of her youth and idealism in the act of raping her. The chain of events, which are set off by Alec’s actions, devastates Tess. The naive Tess, with child, sets off for home. She must go to work to support her family and baby. Soon the baby grows sick and dies. Alec later insinuates that Tess’s home setting was not good enough for his child and that it was the cause of the little one’s illness. This adds even more guilt and confusion to her life that she finds hard to handle when confronted with this “monster” from her past. Alec is bluntly contrasted with Tess’s “savior” Angel. In the beginning, Hardy’s character Angel seems to be exclusively a part of the novel to end Tess’s suffering. Their meetings of fate at the novel’s open, and then later, seem to make the reader believe that the two were meant for each other. She does fall deep in love with Angel despite her loathing surrounding men. With several life lessons learned from her encounter with Alec, Tess is reluctant to fall truly give of herself to Angel, but she realizes to give herself up, is to receive love. Angel shows her that love is not something forced or stolen. He is just a nice guy all around.
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Knowing Hardy’s belief of fate allows a reader to quickly realize the story’s outcome. Tess’s trails inevitably are lost and she is ruined. Her life’s foundation begins to crumble when she tells Angel about her experience with Alec. Not being equipped to deal with this, Angel flees the situation and the marriage. He says, “You were one person; now you are another… (I loved) another woman in your shape.” This shows the reader that Angel’s love was in no way genuine, and he, in fact, distanced himself from reality to obtain, who he thought was, the ideal pure woman. This seems to be more devastating to Tess than the rate itself. She had real emotions at stake in this relationship. She honestly loves Angel and she is betrayed by his deception. Angel true self now gives the reader a character to contrast with Alec. Alec did rape Tess, but he shows an extreme amount of remorse for his actions. His guilt drives him to aid with Tess family, something he recognizes is important to Tess. Later, Alec proposes to Tess when he learns of his dead child. No reader can deny that this action is motivated, a least in part, by guilt. However, Alec does show affection towards Tess and does care for her well being. All of these things Tess never truly received from Angel.
Although to a given person the offence of rape ranks fare above any offense that Angel committed, one must remember Tess’s perspective. She is crushed when Alec rapes her. However, it is much harder for Tess to recover when Angel helps her to heal the pain of the past, only to tell her he loved a fantasy that she could never live up to. The constant betrayal of trust in her life causes Tess to lose faith in her fellow man. This, in turn, pushes her to commit the crime, which is the end of her.