English Literature AS: ‘Tess’ and ‘Death’ Comparative Essay

This isn’t the best essay in the world or even the best essay that I’ve ever written, but I’m pleased that I managed to write this without any books to guide me, and in the time period I will be given in the exam. I am looking at this low grade A essay (22-25) as a realistic representation of my current ability, and I feel confident about knowing where and how to improve.


Consider the significance of journeys in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Death of a Salesman.

Journeys in Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Miller’s Death of a Salesman function as narrative devices that enforce the protagonists’ tragedy. The lack of moral fulfilment in geographic and emotional journeys defines their tragic status as predestined by their creators, and changes in culture and society only function to accentuate their tragic demise.

In tragedy, there is no moral fulfilment in journeys. Willy and Tess’s tragedy remains present in the beginning and end of their respective texts, as unlike the classical tragic plays utilising five act structures, Hardy and Miller demonstrate their subversive visions through structural patterning. Willy’s story begins and ends in a car, a motif representing the protagonist’s possibility of escaping from his situation, but also his inability – he can only ever go “10 miles an hour”, as expressed in Act One. Similarly, despite the effect of Alec and Angel’s Christianity and Tess’s own visual similarities to Eve (Hardy alludes to Biblical tradition through the mirroring of Tess eating forbidden fruit), her sacrifice at Stone Henge connotes the Pagan tradition inspired by her mother’s book of Pagan legend – “Complete Fortune Teller”, in the ‘The Maiden’. Despite this progression, Tess and Will’s tragedy is predestined by their writers and thus foreshadowed, uniting their tragedy in the lapse of journeys.

It is Tess’s journey into womanhood that sparks her tragedy. The critic, Weeks, stated that “Tess’s tragedy is bound with social process”, demonstrating how Tess had journeyed into the destructive power of femininity that haunts her throughout. This is evidenced through Hardy’s motif of shame that is embodied in objects of femininity such as “Sorrow”, a physical result of the abuse of Tess’s gender, and the pronounced symbolism of “her red ribbon” that utilises repetition and alliteration to foreshadow Tess’s destructive sexuality. Society never undertook the same progressive journey, resulting in her tragedy at the hands of the Victorian patriarchy. This alludes to Hardy’s authorial context and a theme present in realist novels that uses femininity to embody nature and pastoral setting, and masculinity to embody the growing Industrial Revolution – “When the day grew strong… Tess lost her strange and ethereal beauty”. This sexual violation of Tess with “Hardy’s male voice and male eye”, as interpreted by Brady, reflects Hardy’s interest in Charles Darwin and his distaste for Industrial change. This is additionally embodied in Angel’s journey to Brazil that represents a distance from Tess’s inherent Britishness that she comes to represent through Pagan ritual defining the beginning and end of her story – the Mayday dance representing fertility through phallic symbolism and thus her descent into womanhood, and her death at Stone Henge, and the binary opposition between nature and industry, or Tess and Angel. There is consequently a tragedy in a lack of journeys.

Willy’s lack of journey is emphasised through Miller’s use of staging in order to create a sense of tragedy. The initial title of the play was ‘The Inside of His Head’, showing the stage as Willy’s mind. Other linguistic terms such as the “angular, towering” houses and the motif of Willy’s car help to physically enclose the tragic hero, preventing him from completing his journey. Similarly, this reflects the 1950s context of the growing capitalist market and Willy’s attempt to complete the journey of the American Dream. Willy’s incapability to move consequently mirrors Miller’s ideology that the journey could never be accomplished – there is a lack of a journey because Willy, according to Miller, was never meant to complete it.

Successful journeys were not meant to be accomplished by Willy and Tess, as two tragic heroes who cannot transcend their predestined fates. This is demonstrated by the very titles of the text: Tess of the D’Urbervilles coherently presents Tess as a character who cannot exceed the social class ascribed to her. Willy “Loman” utilises the homonym, ‘Lowman’ in order to manipulate the character’s fate, and the title Death of a Salesman acts as recognition that Willy never became anything more than his job, mirroring the effects of a capitalist society. This is an authorial method used throughout landmark tragedy texts – Shakespeare’s choice of the name ‘Othello’ affirms the character’s identity in a play that seeks to remove it through racial and linguistic means. Arthur Miller defies the conventions of classical tragedy as the use of the indefinite article ‘a’ presents Willy as a representative or generic ‘type’ – Willy’s story isn’t unique, only heightening the universal tragedy of a capitalist system. Journeys are thus determined by social hierarchies, binding tragedy with social process.

Conclusively, journeys in texts function to highlight the social limitations that restrict tragic heroes, and it is consequently the lack of journeys that result in characters’ tragic ends.


22/25 (A)


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