Hardy’s Tragic Vision | Thomas Hardy as a Pessimist

Thomas Hardy is against Aristotle as well as Shakespeare in writing tragedy because he is a pessimist. He does not follow contemporary rules and regulations as defined by Aristotle in “Poetics” nor does he copy Shakespeare. Aristotle’s rules have been followed from many centuries but Hardy ignores them. He redefines meanings of tragedy in his novels which is called Hardy’s tragic vision.

Thomas Hardy’s vision is less tragic and more pessimist; therefore, he is far different from common writers of tragedy. He mixes modern and ancient forms. However, his tragedies are realistic. He portrays humans pathos in his novels. His tragedies are not on action but reaction. Most of his characters are not tragic but sympathetic. Typically, Hardy’s novels are full of artificial coincidences, which ruin real taste of tragedy. He is considered a tragedian but he is vastly different from many other writers.

Thomas Hardy’s novels are flooded with pessimism. Like Greeks, his tragedies are also based on fate and coincidences. Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero is that; he must have hamartia due to which he suffers but Hardy does not consider it a good rule of tragedy. In his tragedies, characters are not responsible for their destruction but fate and chances. Only fate is answerable for the downfall of protagonist. Thomas Hardy’s tragic vision is that men are puppets in the hands of fate and thus everything is dependent on luck. Following factors make Thomas Hardy a pessimist:

  • Unfavorable events,
  • Chances,
  • Coincidences
  • Fate

Every tragedy which is written with the combination of above said elements is termed as Hardian Tragedy. Aristotle defined rule of hamartia so that the feelings of pity and fear could be aroused. Hardy’s tragic vision rarely gives his characters hamartia. Their downfall is dependent on adverse circumstances, therefore, they get mere sympathy from the readers. Thomas Hardy was not a misanthrope but a pessimist. In his eyes fate, chances and circumstances are worst enemy of humanity. Chances and fate dominate freewill in his novels. In this way, Hardy’s characters have very less tragic flaw.

In contrast to Hardy’s tragic vision, Shakespeare’s example s in front of us. His characters are fully responsible for their crimes. Thomas Hardy on the other hand is a pessimist, therefore, he has molded tragedy as per his own visualization. Thomas Hardy’s vision is less tragic and more pessimist; therefore, he is far different from common writers of tragedy. His characters do not fight only with society but also with their fates. Usually, their fight ends in failure. They cannot win from their fortune and ultimately meet their destruction. Thy are powerless in front of their lucks. Every time, fate dominates the freewill and the character is compelled to take such steps, which leads him to his annihilation.

Most of his innocent characters like Tess suffer without any fault of their own. Due to lack of tragic flaw, Hardy’s tragedies do not shake the faith of people. We consider Hardy’s characters as oppressed, who are miserable because of their powerlessness. Hence, if the character is not responsible for his destruction then it cannot cause catharsis which is primary requirement of a tragedy.

Another important element of Hardy’s tragedy is his choice of characters. Hardy’s characters are neither kings nor does they belong to upper class. He always portrays lower class. Tess is clear example of it. She is a standard woman of a communal society. Hardy’s characters belong to lower class. Another example is of Euctacia, who is also from lower class in “Return of the Native”. It is also another important ingredient of tragedy, mentioned by Aristotle, which has been ignored by Thomas Hardy.

In addition, Ending of Hardy’s novels is fatal. He does not do justice with tragedy. Most of the time, his characters meet death and their death is sympathetic as there is no lessen in it. Only sympathy is not enough for tragedy in the eyes of Aristotle. A tragedy must shake faith and Hardy’s novels do not fulfill this requirement. His ending is not justified as compared to successful writers of his era like George Eliot. Also from this point of view, he is different from other tragedians.

Hardy’s work defines his tragic vision. For instance, “The Return of Native” is a novel that clearly defines tragic vision of Thomas Hardy and clarifies that he is a pessimist. He has painted characters from rural life and tried to show that they have no control on their actions. Hence they are not responsible for any wrongdoings. Clym Yeobright, the protagonist of novel, suffers because of chances and coincidences. Same is the case with Euctacia. She is also dominated by her fate. Although she has moral flaws yet they are not enough to justify her catastrophe. Many of the events of this novel are ironical as they are different from what is expected. Hardy creates chances not to do something good for his characters instead they negatively effect the plot and characters. For instance, in the same novel, when Mrs. Yeobright reaches at the door of his son’s house for reconciliation, Demon Wildive at the same time reaches there and simultaneously, Clym, in sleep, utters the word “mother”; Euctacia thinks that Clym has awaken from sleep and will open the door for his mother but he does not do it. Feeling aggrieved, Mrs. Yeobright returns to her home and on the way, a ladder bites her, which causes death on the spot. The whole scene is dependent on fate and chances and characters can hardly be blamed, as they are not directly responsible for the unexpected occurrences.

To conclude, Thomas Hardy is a pessimist and defines life as misery, therefore, his tragic views are different from common writers. He has his own vision of writing tragedy. Although, he does not follow Shakespeare or Aristotle’s rules in writing tragedies yet he is successful in imitating life. He is successful in depicting human pathos. He is popular in creating new form of tragedy. He defines what he sees with pessimistic approach and he is master in it.We cannot say that his tragedies are defected but it is his style of writing. Indeed, it make him a successful tragedian of Victorian period.

Related Questions:

  • Write note on Hardy’s tragic vision.
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