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Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy is about the titular character, Tess Durbeyfield, who goes on a journey to reclaim her family’s wealthy name. On this journey, she encounters a relative, Alec, who takes away her innocence, causing her to live with a secret that eventually causes her downfall. In closely examining this passage, it highlights the significance of death, justice, God, and the continuity of life.

The first two sentences about the black flag signify death and freedom (Hardy, 397). The color black is known to be a symbol of death, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is also a symbol of “mourning or the signal of a criminal’s execution” (“Black Flag,” def. 1). In this case, Tess is the criminal due to killing Alec prior to this passage, and the two characters watching as the flag is being pulled into place are her husband, Angel, and sister, Liza-Lu, mourning the loss of Tess, who was someone that was important to them. The breeze emphasizes freedom because in Tess’s death and in killing Alec, she no longer has any troubles and she is finally able to gain some happiness. The clock striking is also important because it signifies the cycle of life, and with Tess’s end comes a new life with Angel and Liza-Lu. These all contribute to the novel as a whole because again, it shows Tess’s life from the beginning to the end and it shows that she was the one who finally set herself free from everything that had happened to her.

The next line, “’Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals had ended his sport with Tess,” shows justice, God, and death (Hardy, 397-398). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of justice is the “punishment of an offender; retribution deemed appropriate for a crime, especially capital punishment or execution” (“Justice,” def. 2). In this passage’s case, justice goes for both Tess and Alec as they both committed unforgivable acts and were both executed for them. Hardy’s inclusion of the quotations around the word justice, though, infer that only her society found her death to be worth it because she had killed someone, while in the reader’s eyes, it was not fair due to her having been under certain circumstances that made it necessary for her to commit the act. The “President of the Immortals” is an important figure in this passage because it can refer to both God and Death. Tess is one of the few characters who did not really believe in God, however, the reader can infer that he is the President of the Immortals because he brings people to Heaven and grants them eternal life. Death also does the same as he collects people’s souls in which they live on, whereas their earthly bodies die. Hardy’s choice of the word “sport” is very significant, especially that it is in one of the last sentences of the novel. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word means to “amuse or entertain oneself” or have a pleasant or leisurely time” (“Sport,” def. 1a). It shows that God, or whomever the President of the Immortals really is, has played Tess’s life as if it were a game and that since she is now dead, he no longer gets to use Tess for his personal pleasure and she will finally get to take control of her life in death. This relates to the novel as a whole because it provides some sense of closure to Tess’s life.

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The next line, “And the D’Urberville knights slept on in their tombs unknowing,” signifies that Tess’s death was not honorable enough that she should be buried with her kin. The Oxford Dictionary definition of a knight is a “military servant of the king or other person of rank” (“Knights,” def. 4a). In the beginning of the novel, Tess was forced by her father to try and reclaim the D’Urberville name by marrying Alec, but he takes away her innocence and causes her to keep running away from him. Thus, she never reclaims the name, which leads to this passage saying that her relatives are “unknowing” (Hardy, 398). This is important because she does not fulfill her father’s dream of being reunited with their long-lost relatives, but it emphasizes that she did not care for having a wealthy name, she only wanted to live her life without being caught up in her father’s aspirations.

The last two sentences about the two people signify death and the continuity of life (Hardy, 398). The act of bending down serves as showing reverent respect, and in this case, it is for Tess. The two being motionless while the flag still waves shows that while people may die, other things in life will still go on. The two joining hands shows that not only are Angel and Liza-Lu mourning the loss of Tess, they are being wed at the same time as the death, creating a new life for the one they have lost. This relates to the novel as a whole because Tess had gone through so much trouble in her life, as well as cause trouble for her family, but she ended up finding a husband for Liza-Lu, which ensures that Liza’s would be better than hers. It also shows that even though she dies, other life on earth will keep going.

This passage is important to the novel not only because it is the last paragraph of the novel, but Hardy makes it important to show that life still goes on after someone dies and that life may not always be fair. Most importantly, he emphasizes that justice served may not always be the good or right decision just because a society thinks so.

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