Biblical Quotes In Tess Of The D

’ubervilles Essay, Research Paper

Biblical Quotes in Tess of the D’Ubervilles Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles portrays the romantic struggles of Tess Durbyfield with nature and other uncontrollable circumstances. Hardy crafts his novel with numerous Biblical quotes and allusions. As a self-proclaimed atheist, Hardy manipulates Biblical quotes out of their intended context in the Bible for his own meaning and effect. Although Hardy is an atheist, he is erudite in the Bible and its teachings. This is very evident in his book with 63 documented Biblical quotes and allusions. Hardy most commonly uses the quotes in idiomatic phrases and as similes or metaphors to better describe a character or situation in the original Biblical context, but he also abuses Biblical quotes. Job 42: 5-6 states, “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” In the Biblical context, to “repent in dust and ashes” means to repent with your whole being, which is made of dust and ashes. Hardy reveals Tess’s thoughts about Alec: “Hate him she did not quite, but he was dust and ashes to her, and even for her name’s sake she scarcely wished to marry him” (80). Hardy manipulates the Biblical meaning and creates his own meaning for “dust and ashes.” Hardy’s definition implies that dust and ashes are scum and lowly objects of no desire to Tess. Hardy exploits a Biblical quote intended to mean every fiber of one’s being into the offal of Tess’s desire. Hardy also eliminates the original intention of Phillipians 4: 8-9 :”Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do.” The adjectives Jesus mentions exemplify the highest qualities of man and should remind Christians of the only perfect human, Jesus. In Tess of the D’Ubervilles, Angel describes Tess as “being numbered among those who are true, honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report” (192). Hardy’s quotation of the Bible is misleading and hypocritical of Tess’ true character. Tess was not pure, true, or just. Tess loses her virginity before she is married and has a child out of wedlock. Tess also commits murder, defying one of the ten commandments God set before man. The intention of Hardy’s quotation is not to allude to Tess as a Christ figure but rather to characterize Tess as the heroine, who Hardy adored, and show Angel’s love for Tess. In a continuation of Hardy’s trend, he molds another Biblical quote into his own context when he refers to Tess’ character. Hardy’s clever handling of the different quotes’ original Biblical context establishes Tess’ character with an added flair and uniqueness. In Matthew 5: 44 – 45, Jesus says,

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust.” This quote refers to God’s blind love for everyone no matter if they are Christians or not. God does not seek wrath on sinners, but rather he treats everyone equally. Tess expresses that she would not “mind learning why – why the sun does shine on the just and unjust alike” (125). Tess’ rhetorical complaint is exactly that and no more. God’s unconditional love is not the point of Tess’ dialogue. Tess complains vocally that she feels life is not fair. Hardy’s misleading quote displays Tess’ ignorance of life’s inequity, and she does not recognize that the original context of the quote is to show God’s love. Hardy does not misuse Biblical quotes to prove a point or raise questions from an atheist’s point of view. Hardy merely quotes the Bible out of context for characterization and dramatic effect, giving new definitions to Biblical phrases that had previously been understood to imply other meanings.


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