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I must create an analysis of Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles but am unable to decide between a Feminist, Structuralist or Marxist approach. Can anyone help me?

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Answer:

Hardy's novel functions as an exploration of the dominance of men over women in the 18th and 19th centuries (while Hardy writes in the 19th century, the story is set in an earlier period). Hardy goes into great detail about the laborers's lives and opportunities (e.g., the work contract Tess signs at Flintcomb-Ash; the option for changing jobs at Old Lady Day in April; the colorful carts employers send to transport the belongings of newly contracted laborers, etc). He sets up significant contrasts between lives of villagers, clergy, and the new upper class. Tess of the d'Urbervilles was socially rejected and decried as an immoral and wrong-headed story, as an original yet unacceptable story.

Because of the novel's function (explore dominance of men over women), it lends itself quite naturally to feminist criticism. Because the novel details working life on three social and educational levels, it invites Marxist criticism. Because he was unable to publish Tess as originally written but was forced by public censure to radically alter the story as it was seen as something untraditional and horrible--though he eventually restored it to the original form, which is the form we read today--the novel is an excellent subject for structural criticism.

The foundational tenet of Literary Structuralism is that universal structure of text may be uncovered by examining the interior elements of a literary text and by connecting the results of the analysis to other texts. It is through the analysis-dependent connections that universal narrative structure is uncovered. Points for analytical examination include: values textualized ("valorization": what the text shows to be valuable); function of the text (not "meaning" since "meaning" is a subjective interpretation); cause and effect; parallels; repetitions; connotations of significant words and concepts; character; setting; imagery; metaphor, to name a few. Applied to Tess, we've already identified the function and suggested that what the text valorizes (values) is quite different from what society values. By applying Structuralism to Tess, you might find that your analysis contradicts or confirms the Structuralists's description of universal narrative structure.

The objective of Marxist criticism is to expose the unexpressed ideology of a society, an ideology that underlies texts since it is embedded in the expression of the setting's economic base and superstructure of philosophy, religion, laws, politics and art that arise out of the economic base and lend continuity and permanence to that economic base. In Tess, Hardy does much to expose the silent ideology that is shared without question by England's society and that is the result of the economic base and that is the foundation of the superstructure of law and culture. Application of Marxist criticism to Tess will do much to reveal the setting's economically based society and provide a strong comparison to our society.

Feminist criticism's historical primary aim is to expose and explore the male-female patriarchal hierarchy that fosters asymmetrical binaries that govern society. In other words, it aims to understand male dominance over women and to identify the oppositions in patriarchal presuppositions that define--and confine--women in unnatural relationships to themselves and to their culture and to men. Since Hardy's story centers around male dominance over women and the true representation of "pure" womanhood, application of Feminist criticism to Tess will help fulfill Hardy's intention and elucidate the "why he wrote this" behind the story: which was to influence a change in the accepted order of society.

This synopsis of each and of their applications to Tess ought to help you decide which critical approach you would be interested in and would find the most rewarding. It is clear that the depth of Hardy's text makes any of the three equally pertinent, applicable and revealing.

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