Innocent Culprits in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Throughout the last five-six hundred years high expectations have been set that life would improve for all human beings, particularly for women. We find women who have spoken against all the drawbacks and detriments that limit the effectiveness of women in society.
Since the very first rebel of protofeminists women have been willing to struggle for their human rights and emancipation. Even in the 19th century a woman was still the property of her father or husband and her honor was to be protected until marriage. The role of a woman was to be educated and brought up to become a good wife and mother. They were seen as inferior to men by society and their task was to provide generous support for their husbands. In this respect 19th century women were the heroines of that time who went against the conventional image of a woman, who was considered to be helpless, weak and uneducated.
The novelists Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Hardy present us two of the strongest and purest female characters of 19th century literature, namely Hester Prynne and Tess Durbeyfield. They give outstanding presentations of two societies where only “the woman pays” (Hardy 1993, 199).
Based on two novels entitled The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy, the present paper focuses on the evolution of the heroines as individuals throughout their stories. The two novels will be analyzed exclusively from the point of view of the evolution of the individual and the surrounding effects that play important roles in the process of becoming a Foucauldian individual.
The purpose of this paper is to examine these two novels from the point of view of Michel Foucault’s concept of subjectification, objectification and self-formation based on several of his works, including Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison (1975), The Subject and Power (1982), and What is Enlightenment? (1984).
The methods that are used in order to reach the final goal of the paper are the comparison and contrast of these two novels. Structurally, the paper is composed of seven main chapters. The first chapter is entitled The Influence of Literature, Society and Individuality upon One Another, and focuses on the presence of individualism in society and in literature. The second chapter, entitled The Relationship between Subject, Individuality and Power, gives a summary of Michel Foucault’s works, concepts and views. The next chapter, entitled The Individual in 19th Century English and American Novels, gives a brief presentation of the lives and works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Hardy and points out that these two authors and their literary works have similar vocations.
Each of the following chapters of the paper takes one of Foucault’s works as the basis of the analysis of the novels. Under the title Reality vs. Perception, chapter four takes Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison (1975) into account when examining the perceptions of the Puritan and the Victorian societies and pointing out those dividing practices that objectify these women. The second of the subchapters, entitled Challenges in Facing Society, gives an analysis of the heroines’ relationship and attitude towards society and the other characters and vice versa by taking the three most important elements in the process of one’s self-formation stated and explained by Foucault in his essay entitled What is Enlightenment? (1984).
Based on Jeremy Bentham’s theory of the Panopticon and Foucault’s concept of the dividing practices, chapter five, entitled The Role of Men in the Heroines’ Lives, presents how the male characters in both novels contribute to the heroines’ sins, punishments and failures.
The diversity and hierarchy of sin and hypocrisy that appear in the examined novels make up another chapter under the title of Hierarchy of Sins with the purpose of examining the presented societies from the point of view of Foucault’s concept of the carceral systems in order to demonstrate that there are more complex and heavier sins than those of the heroines’.
Before drawing the conclusion, a final chapter, entitled Sinners or Saints, takes Erving Goffman’s theory of stigma as the basis of the examination of the two faces of the main characters, comparing the identity that they create for themselves, which are referred to as their actual social identities and the identity that society assigns to them, their visual social identities.
The above summarized chapters are aimed at presenting how the Foucauldian dividing practices work when the heroines become distinguished, objectified and thus stigmatized by society.
The approach used in this paper is aimed at demonstrating that the true villain is the society of those times, that society is hypocritical and its oppression on certain members is presented through one woman’s mistake. The final goal of the present paper is to reveal how the surrounding characters, society and their strict perceptions contribute to Hester’s and Tess’ failure or success in the process of becoming Foucauldian subjects. Altogether the paper demonstrates that these women are pure and whether they succeed in becoming an individual or not, they are “innocent culprits”.
The reason that lies behind the selection of this topic is that I agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson on saying that: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” This proves to be especially true for women. Few men and even fewer male authors can truly understand and see through the complexity of a woman’s soul.
One of the reasons for choosing these novels and this topic is that Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Hardy are great representatives of presenting the oppression of a female individual in a given society, where male dominance, narrow-mindedness and hypocritical moral laws contribute to their tragedies.
A further reason is that even today women are seen as inferior to men and they still struggle to make themselves understood. In my point of view, every woman who is considered to be “fallen” has her own story and I strongly believe that those who are around her should ask themselves whether they have any responsibility in that woman’s failure in life.
The Influence of Literature, Society and Individuality upon One Another
The concept of individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology or social view which emphasizes the values, the uniqueness and the importance of the individual. It focuses on the achievements of individual goals and desires. Peter L. Callero (2009, 17) states that “Individualism is a belief system that privileges the individual over the group, private life over public life, and personal expression over social experience; it is a worldview where autonomy, independence, and self-reliance are highly valued and thought to be natural; and it is an ideology based on self-determination, where free actors are assumed to make choices that have direct consequences for their own unique destiny”.
Questions regarding the concept of individualism have been around since the beginning of history. Even the great Greek philosopher Socrates believed in living by his motto “Know Yourself” and thought that every human being can discover his individuality by getting to know himself but at that time this did not mean to separate yourself from the others. During the Medieval Ages Christianity controlled the social life of Europe, everything was put under the strict control of the Church. Despite the harsh conditions individualism could not break out but the increasing mistrust towards the Church finally led to the birth of individualism. In the Renaissance period people started to become more open-minded and more independent. A new concept of individualism was laid down by the Jesuits and by the Calvinists.
With the French philosopher René Descartes modern philosophy started. It was the Age of Enlightenment when the ideas of reason and self-confidence led to revolution throughout Europe and made the way of modern individualism. Since then a great number of philosophers have shared their thoughts upon the concepts of individualism, individuality and the individual. They have not always been in agreement with each other but had very distant views upon the same phenomenon. Some famous 18-19th century philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill believed that every individual has the right to choose his own actions while the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel argued that individualism is dangerous to society and being inspired by the ancient Greek polis he thought that the state has power over its individuals. 20th century psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud claimed that what we call our individuality is actually controlled by our subconscious impulses. Philosophers Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre argued that the only thing which is unique and individual in every individual’s life is death because we cannot experience another person’s death. In the second half of the 20th century thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Catherine Belsey see the individual as a building block of society or culture. They claim that the individual is surrounded by a system of power relations which forms him.
According to the period of time and the social, cultural, political conditions of each epoch, individualism has been viewed in many ways throughout the centuries. It is undeniable that society has played an important role in the formation and effectiveness of individualism. There is a two-way relationship between the two. Society is composed of individuals while the main purpose of individualism, as ideology, is to provide the possibility of free thinking and will, among the other individuals within a given society.
Even the main thinkers of the Antiquity were preoccupied with the existing relationship between society and its members. One of the greatest evidence for this existing relationship comes from ancient Greek literature, more accurately from Antigone, a well-known tragedy written by Sophocles. The heroine acts as a woman and a sister who represents the sacred law and the family tie. Antigone consciously commits a sin (buries Polynices), which is a sin according to human law but it is duty according to the sacred law. Creon, on the other hand, is determined to protect the polis from everything. For him the safety and the togetherness of the citizens are the two most important values. For him life is the only value whereas for Antigone living life in a moral and virtuous way is the greatest value. The balance between these values breaks up when Creon gives the order that it is forbidden to bury Polynices.
By presenting the conflict between Antigone and Creon the play proves that the community or even the polis cannot function without family and family cannot exist without the polis. As a consequence, the values of the family and the values of the polis do not exclude each other as the polis is composed of families and family is protected by the polis.
In this respect society and its members do not exclude one another but complete each other, in order to keep a balance between them for the greatest level of effectiveness of both parties. Venkat (2010, par. 27) in his project states that individuals come together to form the entity called society for the reason of protecting the rights of those individuals while society is composed of individuals and for individuals.
Throughout history literature has given a unique insight into the life of several different individuals within a given society, in a particular period of time. It presents individuals who are members of society or who are excluded from society. It shows life form a realist point of view to even a grotesque or ironic way of presentation, with the purpose of either giving example to follow or showing bad examples in a rather ironic or grotesque way to encourage us to seek the good.
Literature points out a variety of human morals, values, attitudes, habits and even the bad qualities of humans. It is about living life. By showing different life situations it encourages, educates, teaches, guides and entertains us.
Individualism as a theme in literature appeared when the very first novels were written. The now classic characters such as Don Quixote, Don Juan or even Robinson Crusoe were the original individuals. In English literature one of the earliest signs of individuality is found in John Milton’s epic poem entitled Paradise Lost, in which Satan, after assessing his losses, states that he will never lose his greatest gift, namely his identity: “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. / What matter where, if I be still the same…” (2005, 24).
An interesting fact is that to describe a typical superhero the best words to use are the ones which describe men: strong, brave, aggressive, rational. As opposed to this women are described as soft, weak, emotional and passive. This shows that these stereotyped qualities are often reinforced in fictional characters. It also points out that the characteristics which typify men are the values linked to individualism (Callero 2009).
Literature and individuality are not disjointed from one another as the former presents those surrounding effects that form one into an individual. Society shapes individuals while they make literature multicolored and variable, thus literature, society and the individuals continuously influence each other.
The Relationship between Subject, Individuality and Power
The French philosopher and social theorist, Michel Foucault (1926 ̶ 1984) is one of the most influential thinkers of the second half of the 20th century. His works mainly deal with social problems, including social institutions, power relations and subject formation. He was often said to be a post-structuralist and postmodernist despite the fact that he denied this supposition and defined his way of thinking as a critic of modernism.
This chapter is aimed at giving a summary on Foucault’s views upon power, subject and individuality form his early way of thinking to his final concept. This summary is based on several of his works: The Order of Things (1966), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison (1975), The Subject and Power (1982), The Will to Knowledge: Volume I (1967), The Use of Pleasure: Volume II and The Care of the Self Volume III of The History of Sexuality (1984).
Foucault’s way of thinking was influenced by two main theoretical perceptions, namely Marxism and phenomenology. Marxism was a social-political ideology in the middle and late 19th century and was characterized by a strong volition to change the world. Its theory stated that the world could be changed by the working class. Another influence on Foucault’s thinking was phenomenology, whose main representative was the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Phenomenology as a philosophical movement dealt with the consciousness and full knowledge of individuals who were considered as the controllers of their own activities and who had full knowledge of themselves and the world surrounding them.
Although Foucault was influenced by these worldviews, his writings appear as a critical response to them and show the influence of structuralism. On the one hand, his works are characterized by the structuralist view, which states that every element of the world should be viewed in a relationship to a larger structure. Foucault was interested in representing comprehensive analysis of power relations, social institutions, sexuality, knowledge and subjects as well as their development and diversity throughout history. On the other hand, he agreed with Heidegger on stating that individuals are not free to think and act as they wish because they are controlled by the larger system to which they belong. In Foucault’s view human beings are subjects to a superior power.
In his essay entitled The Subject and Power (1982) Foucault states that his work is aimed at studying the way in which a human turns himself into a subject. He draws the attention upon the fact that the theme of his research is the formation of the subject and not the exploration of those power relations which influence them (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983, 208). Although he becomes involved with the questions of power relations and examines these relations in order to investigate subjects, it is not the main topic of the work.
In Foucault’s view, when a subject is placed into formation, it is equally placed into power relations. He sees power as a very complex set of relations which has continuously changed through particular periods of time in history. For Foucault power does not belong to anyone and no one can escape from its effect, it concerns everyone. “Power moves around and through different groups, events, institutions and individuals, but nobody owns it. Of course certain people or groups have greater opportunities to influence how the forces of power are played out” (Danaher, Schirato and Webb 2000, 73).
To examine power relations Foucault raises a set of resistance which separates these relations. He takes a “series of oppositions which have developed over the last few years: opposition to the power of men over women, of parents over children, of psychiatry over the mentally ill, of medicine over the population, of administration over the ways people live” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983, 211). These are “anti-authority struggles” which question the values of an individual and also highlight everything which makes a human a true individual, these struggles compel the individual back on himself; they are oppositions against the effects of power which are linked with knowledge and qualification (ibidem). All these struggles revolve around the question: Who are we? They are against the ideological state violence which ignores our individuality and determines who we are.
In Foucault’s view there are three types of struggle: against forms of domination, against forms of exploitation and against forms of subjectivity and submission. These struggles are all present in a particular period in history while one of them appears to be more dominant than the others. For instance, in the 19th century the struggle against exploitation was dominating but the others did not disappear. Subjection is the result of economic and social processes such as forces of production, class struggle and ideological structures (idem, 212).
Throughout Foucault’s works his view upon what the subject is has changed. His early writings (The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (1963), The Order of Things, (1966)) show that he was very much influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of the `dead` subject, arguing that the subject is controlled by the different power relations and institutions surrounding him. Foucault sees the subject as a product of power relations and as someone who is neither active nor free to have control over his own actions. He believes that subjects are governed by external powers such as the perception of the community they live in, the period of time they live in or the authority of the leader or leaders.
In his later works (The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), History of Sexuality, Volume I, II, III (1976, 1984)) Foucault’s view upon the concept of the subject has changed and argues that subjects are in charge of their lives and identities to some extent. We could say that everyone is a subject who has a certain identity and lives in a particular society. Foucault sees the subject from a comprehensive point of view and states that subjects are not one-sided and they do not have everlasting characteristics as they continuously change according to the power relations that surround them.
In general Foucault believes that power relations create individuals who are subjects. These subjects act and they are active not passive controllers of their lives. Thus power produces subjects who are aware of their own identity. According to Foucault, a subject is “tied to his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983, 212). In the third volume of the History of Sexuality, The Care of the Self (1984) Foucault works out a series of technologies which contribute to the development and formation of the self. The most important “technology of the self” is self-knowledge (Danaher, Schirato and Webb 2000, 129). Foucault sees knowledge as different ideas, rules, definitions, perspectives created by various power relations. What makes us who we are is our relationship with others. According to Foucault, it is important for individuals to “know themselves”. We as individuals, should think of ourselves in a different way from what we are told or encouraged to think of ourselves. We have to be conscious of those affecting power relations that surround us and try to liberate ourselves.
In Foucault’s point of view individuals or subjects are active and capable of change. They are not totally vulnerable to the power relations they live in, they have enough possibilities to act as they wish. Foucault’s individual is both subordinate to the normalized society and capable of acting as he wants while still living in a formalizing society.
The Individual in 19th Century English and American Novels
In the 19th century the dominant literary form was the novel. It proved to be a good means of influencing the taste of the public, while it presented the world as it is and not as it ought to be. The 19th century novel is a blend of romance and realism both in England and in America. In England the Brontë sisters are considered to be influential romance writers and even Thomas Hardy was influenced by the tradition of the genre. In America novels were referred to as romances and they turned to be good means of expressing psychological processes and attitudes for which one notable example is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850).
In the 19th century novel the hero or heroine is generally placed in realistic circumstances and struggles hard to find his or her identity and place in society. The main protagonist gets in conflict with other members of society. While presenting the members of a particular society there is often social criticism beneath the story referring to social mentality, manners, behavior and social institutions.
Nancy Armstrong (2005, 22) argues that after Jane Austen’s novels every Victorian novel incorporates anti-individualistic elements of gothic in order to reach an all-encompassing narrative growth and development. This technique appears in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1860), in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) and in several other literary works during the 19th century. In Victorian realism one becomes an adult if s/he manages to surmount these anti-individualistic gothic elements.
The 19th century novel goes against the expression of open individualism. The main protagonist of these novels does not become an individual in the sense that s/he acts as s/he wishes but in the sense that s/he manages to lock out the conventional perception of the community.
The contemporary ideal vocation of women was to become a loving and supporting wife and mother. A young woman who got married lost her free individuality at once and the tension between the ideal image of a woman and reality sharpened. Several 19th century novels depicted this growing problem and revealed that women were far from enjoying their lifelong vocations and they appeared to suffer from it. In this respect we can say that the contemporary woman was far from being the role model of her time.
Heroines such as Jane Eyre, Tess Durbeyfield, Catherine Earnshaw, Becky Sharp, Hester Prynne shocked the contemporary reading public despite the fact that women were becoming fed up with having their weakness as their power. In parallel male protagonists such as Heathcliff, Alec D’Urbervilles, Mr. Dombey are presented with a difference that while women are convicted for having similar qualities as men the reader is convinced to forgive them and understand these male characters’ actions (Nancy Armstrong 2005, 80-81).
The novels entitled The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy present two remarkable female protagonists who turned upside down the conventional image of woman, which was based on sinfulness and seductiveness. Those who in one way or another did not respect these values were considered as “fallen women” and were outcast from society and often from their family as well.
Richard Redgrave’s painting entitled The Outcast (1851) gives a realistic depiction of this mentality. It depicts the moment when a father sends his daughter away because she “let herself be seduced”. The other members of her family have ambiguous reactions as we cannot tell for sure whether they feel sorry for the girl or they are ashamed. This painting reveals how dangerous and cruel society can be.
The novelists Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Hardy were aware of the fact that a woman’s “fall” is much more complex and the effects coming from outside surrounding that woman play a major role in her failure in life. They both find the way to criticize the cruelty, injustice and hypocrisy of society.
Hawthorne between Past and Present
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 ̶ 1864) is one of the most outstanding writers of 19th century American literature. Throughout his lifetime he was quite self-contained, lonely, mysterious and most of all he was unique both in his writings and in his way of thinking. Acquainting his biography we can understand his writings better and by reading his literary works we can get to know him also as a person, not just as a writer.
A Hawthorne reader cannot be satisfied with only knowing his biography or his writings as the two are so close that they somehow complete each other. It is also notable that it is not enough to know Hawthorne’s life and the period he lived in because what makes him unique is the never-fading remorse he inherited from his Puritan ancestors. We have to know his past in order to understand his present.
Hawthorne is also unique in the sense that he was not limited by a certain literary movement. He attacked transcendentalism but this did not mean that he did not use some of the transcendentalist ideas.
Transcendentalism went against conservative Puritanism and Utilitarianism and considered that they were both negative and lifeless. Transcendentalists thought that God was everywhere both in men and in nature. They regarded nature as their bible and all the elements of nature got a special meaning. It is also the period when individual freedom started to intensify. In Hawthorne’s view transcendentalism seemed to be too optimistic and he accused the transcendentalists of ignoring human doubt and sin. He criticized this optimistic idealism and tried to highlight its possible consequences by writing several ironic short stories such as: The Birth-mark (1843), The Celestial Railroad (1843) and Rappaccini’s Daughter (1844).
Transcendentalism patronized several reform movements including feminism. Hawthorne wrote during a period when the education of women started to reach a higher level. He knew Margaret Fuller, who was a major fighter for women’s rights, before he wrote The Scarlet Letter (1850). Despite the fact that the story is set in the period of 17th century Puritanism, Hawthorne’s novel is in connection with 19th century feminism. He created a heroine in Hester Prynne who is considered to be a heretic by 17th century Puritans and at the same time she is a 19th century feminist.
Puritanism forms an important context in understanding Hawthorne’s view on sin, love, life, religion and in understanding his writings. He was very much interested and an expert in 17th century history. In several of his works he refers to his ancestors who lived around that time. Reading Hawthorne’s works our image about Puritanism is very much influenced.
He is in relation with Puritanism and the Puritans in two different ways. On the one hand, he was born and raised in a family which was influenced by Puritan inheritance and his ancestors were Puritans. His life was strongly influenced by one of his ancestors, namely John Hathorne, who was involved in the 1692 witch trials in Salem. He once wrote about his great-great grandfather that “he had all the Puritanic traits, both good and evil” (Hawthorne 1954, 15). He was obsessed by the question regarding how much we are responsible for the deeds of our ancestors.
One the other hand, Hawthorne’s relation with Puritanism lies in his interest in sin and doubt. His works almost always deal with moral questions and there is a tension between good and bad.
Throughout his lifetime Hawthorne dealt with the question of sin, remorse, moral failure and moral purgation. He believed that the greatest sin was the infringement of human dignity. The main themes he discusses are characterized by the same duality and struggle which characterize Hawthorne’s life. He deals with the questions of the conventional and the unconventional, guilt and innocence, hypocrisy and frankness, power and individual, guiltiness and innocence.
He knew the bad side of human life and human nature; he showed sympathy towards the fallen ones and presented these in a unique way in which he showed little relation with the contemporary thinkers and writers of his time.
Hardy’s World and His Views
Thomas Hardy (1840 ̶ 1928) was one of the most influential English poets and novelists at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. His life and works form a link between two contrasting ages, namely between Victorianism and Modernism. He lived in an epoch when everything seemed to be changing and the passing of time seemed to be unstoppable. There are very few poets or novelists who dealt with time as much and as stubbornly as Hardy. Several of his poems deal with the unmercifully passing of time, with the transiency of human happiness and with the non-fulfillment of human desire.
Throughout the last century Hardy was often referred to as a philosopher despite the fact that he does not write about beliefs, he only depicts a certain impression in a particular moment. Although the themes which appear in his writings stimulate critics and readers to investigate into his concept upon life, society, religion or morality, Hardy is primarily a writer and not a philosopher.
He came from a rural environment and he was surrounded by the rural underclass struggle from an early age. The suppression and differentiation of women affected him deeply. During his youth he was surrounded by strong and independent women who had a major influence upon the young writer. His mother and sisters were his teachers and his sensitivity led him to a better understanding of the moral, social or even religious conflicts of his time.
Hiss sincerity was his strength and his weakness at the same time. Being frank and open in expressing and depicting different problems, conflicts and life situations was shocking for the contemporary readers and mainly for the editors. An editor, Leslie Stephen once suggested to Hardy to write “as if for the parson’s daughter – and, inevitably, for her pious father” (Morgan 2007, 8). Since Hardy thought that this technique was rather hypocritical and frustrating, he developed a prose technique that defied his censorious readers and started to infuse poetry into prose.
Hardy’s literary works represent characters who are vulnerable, they are rather passive than active and it is fatality that plunges their lives into tragedy. When thinking of his Wessex novels, there appears one aspect which characterizes these works and this is Hardy’s frequent use of coincidence and chance. In his view a human being can do nothing to have control over his own destiny as fateful coincidences and chances take up the control. Hardy depicts characters who struggle against the circumstances to have control over their lives. His heroes and heroines are not seen in relationship with the members of society, instead they are viewed in the progress of struggling against their passion and love. The depiction of the social background is to some extent neglected but still the depiction of the tragic fate of a certain character includes the social condition as well. Besides the use of chance and coincidence, Hardy has a unique view upon nature. Nature is not just seen as the setting of the actions but it appears as a shaping force in the characters’ lives.
He was criticized for being deeply pessimistic about human life and condition in the world by both the contemporary reading public and the critics of his time. The truth behind judging his writings and views so harshly was that neither the readers nor the critics could accept the fact that Hardy considered a “fallen” woman, such as Tess Durbeyfield, a pure woman. In his view Tess was a pure, innocent young woman who was seduced and deprived of her happiness.
As opposed to Hardy’s view the public looked at Tess as a “fallen” woman and a murderer. Everyone was aware of the fact that the seduction of vulnerable young woman remained unpunished but no one wanted to speak up against it. The depiction of Tess’ tragic fate includes the decay of the peaceful and naïve rural conditions and living.
It is obvious that what Hardy wishes to express and highlight is the moral perception of society. He condemns the members of society on being hypocritical and on judging based upon hasty judgment. Through his writings Hardy highlights the fact that it is society which destroys those who are basically good and pure.
Two Authors, One Vocation
The names of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Hardy have been coupled many times over the years despite the fact that they lived on two different sides of the world, were separated by several decades and had different reading publics. There is no evidence regarding the fact that Hardy read Hawthorne’s works but still he had some knowledge on his American predecessor’s works. Scholars say that Hardy is not likely to have read Hawthorne’s novel entitled The Scarlet Letter (1850).
Even if we do not have a clear image of Hawthorne’s literary works influencing Hardy’s view, there is a strong connection between their views, concepts, aims and works. They were both engaged in revealing the hypocrisy and judgment of society, the complexity of human soul, the false moral perception of communities, the evil and sin of humanity, the struggle against the circumstances to have control over one’s destiny. They tried to convey human feelings, struggles, experiences, desires, errors and redemptions.
Although the settings of their novels entitled The Scarlet Letter (1850) and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) are separated by almost two centuries, they have similar themes. The lives and struggles of the heroines are similar; they both have repressive and fleeing men as well as illegitimate children in their lives.
In both novels the reader feels the deep suffering of these women. Both Hardy and Hawthorne are willing to express the suffering of women and the contribution of others to their tragic fate. They were proto-feminists who found a new and powerful way to awaken and draw the attention of humanity to its errors and falsehoods.
Reality vs. Perception
“There is no fixed physical reality, no single perception of the world, just numerous ways of interpreting world views as dictated by one’s nervous system and the specific environment of our planetary existence” (Deepach Chopra). This is a quotation which appositely describes the phenomenon that appears in both examined novels. There is no doubt that one’s way of thinking about the world and about the different things in the world is very much influenced by the family, the environment, the educational system, the religious belief and the social circumstances that a person is surrounded by throughout his or her life.
Both Hawthorne and Hardy believed that the societies of 17th century American Puritanism and 19th century English Victorianism had falsehoods. They both wished to emphasize the strengths and weaknesses of these societies and the reality that lies beyond the hypocritical surface of these communities.
On the one hand, these authors admired these societies for their strengths. Hawthorne admired the Puritans for their belief in education and hard work, while Hardy loved the peaceful and stable rural Victorian era where he grew up. One the other hand, these novelists’ admiration for these communities was balanced by the weaknesses of these societies that they observed. Hardy was annoyed by the different economic and industrial developments which seemed to destroy rural life. As much as Hawthorne admired the Puritans, he condemned them for their rigid rules and he judged some extreme Puritans who wanted to purify the church and the people as well.
The two novels entitled The Scarlet Letter (1850) and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) present two completely different social backgrounds. The former is set in 17th century Puritan environment, while the latter presents the 19th century English Victorian society. Even though these two historical periods are separated by two hundred years, the perceptions of these societies are rather similar. These novels are aimed at presenting what Foucault would call the “modes of objectification which transform human being into subjects” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983, 208). In other words, they present how the protagonists are treated both as outcasts and subjects to different power relations in these communities.
Foucault’s way of thinking about the subjects that are placed into different circumstances is very much influenced by the way Heidegger sees people, as “for Heidegger, people’s ideas and activities were largely determined by the background in which they lived” (Danaher, Schirato and Webb 2000, 6). Based on Heidegger’s view, Foucault formed “the notion that what people could know was always limited by their contexts” (idem, 7). In this respect the main characters of these novels, Hester Prynne and Tess Durbeyfield, are both placed into different economic, social and religious circumstances which determine their lives, independently of being conscious or unconscious of the background’s changing affect.
According to Saxena-Dixit (2005, 25), there is a First Clause which “almost always works malevolently against mankind”. Ertuğrul Koç (2009, 128) argues that the First Clause “which leads up to the sequence of events” and determines Tess’ life is the moment when her father learns that he is the “lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d’Urbervilles” (Hardy 1993, 3). There is no question that this event is the one which changes Jack and Joan Durbeyfield’s lives and their attitudes towards life, but, in my view, the discovery of her knightly ancestors is not a vital one for Tess. As opposed to her parents, who start chasing unattainable dreams and desires, Tess keeps a distance from the idea of visiting her relatives.
In my opinion, the essential First Clause, which changes Tess’ life, is the accident in which the family horse, Prince, dies. From that moment on “the oppressive sense of the harm she had done led Tess to be more deferential than she might otherwise have been to the maternal wish” (idem, 29). Because her father, “the poor man”, as her mother describes him, gets drunk, he is not “able to take the journey with the beehives” (idem, 23) and, as a consequence, Tess has to do the work.
Superimposing Saxena-Dixit’s terminology to Hester’s case, we can say that the First Clause which leads to Hester’s “downfall” is the fact that her husband sent her forward to live in a foreign town on her own and “in some two years, or less, that the woman has been a dweller here in Boston, no tidings have come of this learned gentleman, Master Prynne; and his young wife, look you, being left to her own misguidance” (Hawthorne 1954, 67). Hester is forced to live in an unknown community hearing that “her husband may be at the bottom of the sea” (idem, 69). Similarly to the First Clause, which changes Tess’ life for forever, the one which precedes Hester’s “downfall” is one way or another generated by others.
This is not the only similarity these women share. There are other similarities which can be pointed out. Both of them give birth to an infant and as a result of this they become the center of gossip, they get isolated from their communities and are judged for being “sinful”. One notable similarity which makes them differ from their community members is the fact that they have different perceptions and views of the world they live in than the members of the community.
Besides the similarities, there are some differences which play important roles in the heroines’ lives. One main difference is their inner strength. Tess is a 16-year-old simple country girl at the beginning of the novel, described as “a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature” (Hardy 1993, 106). In the second chapter she appears as an intelligent and passionate young girl who can control her life but later her passion and world view get broken by her family, by the community and by the men who take advantage of her and eventually leave her. Hardy in his novel entitled Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) states that “When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away” (Hardy 2005, 211). This is somehow true in the case of Tess, who seems to drift with the events. Tess’ strength reaches its highest peak towards the end of the novel.
In Hester’s case this process shows an almost opposite direction. At the beginning of her story the narrator says: “The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman might, under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her, and concentrated at her bosom. It was almost intolerable to be borne. Of an impulsive and passionate nature, she had fortified herself to encounter the stings and venomous stabs of public contumely, wreaking itself in every variety of insult…” (Hawthorne 1954, 62). Hester’s strength is stable at the beginning of the novel and she manages to lock out the malevolent and critical attitude of the community around her.
The above mentioned quotation points out the other differences between the heroines as it presents how Hester is aware of and critical towards the historical period she lives in, which will be analyzed when taking into account what Michel Foucault calls the self-formation techniques.
The Individual in Society
Considered as one of the main thinkers of the 20th century, “Michel Foucault’s polemic voice was raised against the practice of systematizing and universalizing those political and scientific theories which act to turn people (subjects) into things (objects) (Madigan 1992, 266).” Foucault called one of the modes of objectification of the subject a dividing practice, which was introduced in his early work, entitled Madness and Civilization (1965) and was further explained in Discipline and Punish (1977). These dividing practices can be both social and spatial and they “work to qualify or disqualify people as fit and proper members of the social order” (Danaher, Schirato and Webb 2000, 61). They “operate throughout various social institutions such as hospitals, dividing the healthy from the sick; (…) prisons, dividing the lawful from the criminal; and so forth” (idem, 60-61). Foucault also claims that “the subject is objectified by a process of division either within himself or from others” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983, 208).
Both protagonists of the examined novels are presented in the process of being objectified by being divided from the other members of their communities. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles the spatial distinction is best pointed out by the temporal gap between Tess and her mother as “Between the mother, with her fast-perishing lumber of superstitions, folk-lore, dialect, and orally transmitted ballads, and the daughter, with her trained National teachings and Standard knowledge under an infinitely Revised Code, there was a gap of two hundred years as ordinarily understood. When they were together the Jacobean and the Victorian ages were juxtaposed” (Hardy 1993, 17-18). Another distinction is also raised by Tess’ education, due to which she speaks “two languages: the dialect at home, more or less; ordinary English abroad and to persons of quality” (idem, 15).
The social dividing practice also appears in Hardy’s novel. The period of the 19th century witnessed the decay of peasantry, which was caused by exploitation, characteristic of the capitalist system. People started to lose their lands and one way or another were forced to leave their rural homes and move into towns, taking part in the mass production which annexed the economy of rural England.
The novel depicts the hopeless struggling of a poor family, especially of a young girl in the period of transformation. It presents the effects of the change which ended in the industrial-based economy replacing the agriculture-based economy. The individual’s life was determined by the economic oppression dominating at that time.
Tess is a victim of social, economic and religious oppressions. Hardy’s novel presents the dominance of the wealthy over the poor, which is presented in Tess’ and her parents’ relationship with Alec d’Urberville. This points out how people were socially divided based on their social status.
When Alec’s father, Mr. Simon Stoke, “had made his fortune as an honest merchant (some said money-lender) in the North, (…) he felt the necessity of recommencing with a name that would not too readily identify him with the smart tradesman of the past and that would be less commonplace than the original bald, stark words (…) he considered that d’Urberville looked and sounded as well as any of them: and d’Urberville accordingly was annexed to his own name for himself and his heirs eternally” (Hardy 1993, 31-32). Tess and her parents did not know anything about “this work of imagination” (idem, 32). When her parents decide “to send Tess to claim kin” (idem, 21) they did not warn her of the danger of men and of the upper-class world as they themselves do not know anything about the world around them. They are just as vulnerable as Tess but they are also irresponsible dreamers. Her father’s pettiness and opportunism is shown when he says that he will sell the title to Alec for a thousand pound and he ends up selling it to him for twenty pound and “that’s the lowest” because “family honour is family honour” and he “won’t take a penny less” (idem, 42).
Her story not just presents the dominance of the wealthy over the poor but it also presents the dominance of men over women in Victorian England, which counts as another Foucauldian social dividing practice. The dominance of men over women and the distinction between the two genders are best pointed out by the relationship between Tess and Angel Clare, which will be analyzed further in the upcoming chapters.
In The Scarlet Letter (1850) the social dividing practice is revealed through the fact that the main purpose of the Puritan settlers is to purify the church and the people as well. They argue that the services should be simple and as long as one follows the teachings and rules of God s/he would be blessed, but from the moment his behavior goes against the social law, which is based on the Bible, he is considered to be sinful. The scale of expected behavior and attitude by the Puritans is very narrow.
The social form of Foucault’s dividing practice can be pointed out in the Puritan judgment as they distinguish between moral and immoral people. Since the perception of the community is so rigid, those who act according to their private beliefs are isolated from the community. Socially the Puritans judge people for committing sin or behaving unacceptably. In a society like this there is little place, if there is any, for individuals like Hester Prynne. She is not only judged for committing adultery, but she is also judged for having beliefs, attitudes and views different than the other members of the Puritan community. As a consequence of her adultery, Hester is outcast from society and “the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast,—at her, the child of honorable parents,—at her, the mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman, —at her, who had once been innocent, —as the figure, the body, the reality of sin” (Hawthorne 1954, 83).
The spatial form of the dividing practice also appears in Hawthorne’s novel as Hester chooses to live “on the outskirts of the town, within the verge of the peninsula, but not in close vicinity to any other habitation” (idem, 84). She lives near the wood, somewhere between the town and the forest.
According to Stephen Patrick Madigan (1992, 268), in the first mode of objectification (dividing practices) “the individual takes an essentially passive, constrained position”. His statement appositely describes the roles that Hester and Tess take. They are the passive sufferers of the dividing power of their communities. However, it is important to note that they are not passive in the sense that they do not take the effort to act but in the sense that are made passive by being separated and thus objectified by others. Tess is socially isolated by Alec and by the other members of the community because of her family’s social status while Hester becomes separated for breaking the moral laws of the Puritan community by committing adultery.
In the “process of social objectification and categorization, human beings are given both a social and a personal identity” (Rabinow 1984, 8). Based on Foucault’s views, I strongly believe that in order to be able to create and keep up their personal identities, subjects have to recognize and apply the Foucauldian self-formation techniques.
In What is Enlightenment? (1984) Foucault refers to three main techniques which are necessary in the process of becoming a subject. The first element Foucault mentions is that one should be surrounded by an environment which provides enough space for the individual to act out his “self” while he is surrounded by other “selves” (Foucault 1999, 10).
Both novels are aimed at pointing out the disagreements that come from the narrow and one-sided perception of the particular environment the heroines live in. Both Hester and Tess are made into “objects” within these communities and are struggling to form or maintain their “personal identities”.
In the first chapter of The Scarlet Letter (1850) the reader is given a depressing depiction of the physical setting. One of the major characters is introduced in this chapter, namely the Puritan society. In the first chapter Hawthorne states that “a throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and grey steeple-crowned hats, inter-mixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice” (Hawthorne 1954, 53). The chapter points out Hawthorne’s critical attitude towards the presented community as it is symbolized by the overgrown burdocks, pigweeds and unsightly vegetations in front of the prison. Standing outside the prison the Puritan women have an almost frightening and cold-blooded attitude. The narrator notes that there was “solemnity of demeanor on the part of the spectators” and “the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue” (idem, 55-56).
The gapers’ insensitivity is further intensified when a woman suggests that the magistrates “should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead” and another claims that “this woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die” (idem, 57). The Puritans not only convict Hester but they also exile her to live as an outcast. Hawthorne’s critical attitude towards the Puritans continues in the fifth chapter. Despite the fact that people condemn Hester, “her needlework was seen on the ruff of the Governor; military men wore it on their scarfs, the minister on his hand; it decked the baby’s cap” (idem, 87). The narrow-mindedness of the people is pointed out by the fact that they do not allow her to sew the white veil of a bride. The second and fifth chapters point out the cruelty, inhumanity and hypocrisy of this community. In an environment like this the values of the Foucauldian safety and freedom are unknown for the individual. Hester knows that “tomorrow would bring its own trial with it; so would the next day, and so would the next; each its own trail” and people would never stop looking at her “as the figure, the body, the reality of sin” (idem, 82-83).
Tess Durbeyfield, on the other hand, lives in an environment where people are vulnerable to the upper class. These vulnerable people have two possibilities through which they can break out of a community like this: through marriage or through education. Tess had no intention of breaking out through a good marriage as “she had hoped to be a teacher at school” (Hardy 1993, 40). She passed the sixth grade at the local school and she had gained some knowledge about her and her family’s condition. The narrator also draws attention to the fact that “Tess Durbeyfield at this time of her life was a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience” (idem, 10).
She lives in an environment where there is enough space for the individual to experiment with one’s self. She has also gained some knowledge about the world but her education is not enough. She is “mentally older than her mother” (idem, 40) and the other girls of her age but her experience is still in its infancy. From the moment she meets Alec she knows that he is a dangerous and hypocritical man but she is too naïve to look behind his insincerity. However, her naivety can be derived from the fact that she shows lack of experience and she is so judging to herself as she has so much pressure put on her shoulders by her parents. Her remorse is so strong that she forgets to look behind the hypocrisy of the community she finds herself in at Trantridge.
Just like Hester, Tess is seen as an outcast, especially during her stay at Trantridge. She does not make any friends, what is more, the other girls look at her as the rival and the enemy. This can be best exemplified by the attitude of Car the Queen of Spades when the others, including Tess, start laughing at her because the treacle she was carrying in the basket on the top of her head started oozing and it glistened all the way down on her back. Car Darch bursts out and drives out all of her revenge on Tess as “a long smouldering sense of rivalry inflamed her to madness” and calls Tess a “hussy” (Hardy 1993, 58). The other oppressive environment Tess finds herself in at Flintcomb-Ash represents the isolation and emptiness of her life. The setting at Flintcomb-Ash is rigid, unfriendly and harsh as represented by “the hum of the thresher, which prevented speech, increased to a raving whenever the supply of corn fell short of the regular quantity” (idem, 286). In such conditions the “engine-man” (idem, 285) and the workers lose their ability to communicate and they become “mechanized” as they have their lunch “as they stood, without leaving their positions” (idem, 286). As the “ash” in its name suggests Flintcomb-Ash is a drear, bare and deserted place, where everything seems unsympathetic as Tess becomes more and more isolated and lonelier than ever.
The setting at Trantridge and Flintcomb-Ash represents the inhumanity, the harshness and the coldness of the world. These environments do not provide the encouragement that Foucault finds necessary in the process of one’s self-formation. Taking Foucault’s concepts into account we can draw the conclusion that neither of these communities are the ideal place in which an individual can find the support and encouragement needed in the process of her self-formation.
Still, to avoid over-generalizing, both novelists include scenes which demonstrate that there are sympathetic and encouraging persons in both societies. As opposed to Flintcomb-Ash, the farm at Talbothays represents the harmonious and ideal world in which Tess is the happiest, although “Tess had never before visited this part of the country, and yet she felt akin to the landscape” (Hardy 1993, 90). When Tess arrives in Talbothays, she is full of hope thanks to “either the change in the quality of the air from heavy to light, or the sense of being amid new scenes where there were no invidious eyes upon her, sent up her spirits wonderfully” (idem, 91). The community which welcomes her at Talbothays is friendly and supportive. The master-dairyman “received her warmly” (idem, 94) and during her stay she befriends three fellow milkmaids, namely Izz, Retty, and Marian. From the moment Tess arrives at Talbothays they start helping her to fit in. Despite the fact that they are all attracted to Angel they are truly and honestly happy for Tess when they realize that Tess is the one whom he loves. These girls are not malevolent like the others at Trantridge. Although, “the gaiety with which they had set out had somehow vanished, and yet there was no enmity or malice between them. They were generous young souls; they had been reared in the lonely country nooks where fatalism is a strong sentiment, and they did not blame her” (idem, 128). During her stay at Talbothays Tess’ self-formation process is moving in the right direction as she “had never in her recent life been so happy as she was now, possibly never would be so happy again. She was, for one thing, physically and mentally suited among these new surroundings” (idem, 114). However, it is her good faith and naivety which prevents her from finding her true self.
Just like Hardy, Hawthorne does not have too pessimistic views upon the described society. In order to demonstrate that not everyone is merciless and hypocritical he shows that there are good-hearted people who give a little hope in such rigid worlds. Hawthorne avoids over-generalizing by uttering the words of a compassionate young wife who shows sympathy for Hester’s sufferings saying that “let her cover the marks as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart” (Hawthorne 1954, 57). The soft voice of this young wife contrasts the ruthlessness and rigidity of Puritan women. Even though this young wife shows sympathy towards Hester, she stands for the same moral values as the other wives in the crowd. Just like the others, she makes sure that the same values are indoctrinated in the views of the upcoming generation by taking her child out to witness the punishment.
Challenges in Facing Society
In Foucault’s concept, the second element in the process of one’s self-formation is that one has to be aware of the cultural region and historical period in which he or she lives and has to have a attitude which “is no longer going to be practiced in the search for formal structures with universal value, but rather as a historical investigation into the events that have led us to constitute ourselves and to recognize ourselves as subjects of what we are doing, thinking, saying” (Foucault 1999, 10). The third element he mentions is that one should have a “historico-critical attitude” which is an experimental one and “this work done at the limits of ourselves must, on the one hand, open up a realm of historical inquiry and, on the other, put itself to the test of reality, of contemporary reality, both to grasp the points where change is possible and desirable, and to determine the precise form this change should take” (ibidem).
Foucault argues that we are not completely vulnerable to the social relation in which we are placed as the formation of our identities depends on our critical attitude towards the power relations just as much as it is influenced by them. In order to see through the realness of our conditions we have to look at it as reality and we should try to adapt to it even if we have no intention to succumb to it (ibidem).
The second and third self-formation techniques are in relationship with Foucault’s third mode of objectification, which is called subjectification and it refers to “the way a human being turns him- or herself into a subject” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983, 208). “Foucault suggests that subjectification involves those processes of self-formation or identity in which the person is active”(Madigan 1992, 268).
This sub-chapter is aimed at pointing out the active or passive role that the main characters take in the process of their subjectification by looking at their relationships with the environments they are placed in.
As we could see, neither Tess nor Hester has the needed encouraging backgrounds which would facilitate their self-formations. However, their failure or success to create a strong self is not only due to the environment they are placed in. Their abilities to gain a good knowledge of the world and to develop a critical attitude are also responsible for their failure or success of becoming Foucauldian subjects.
In the case of Tess’ story the environment cannot be the only one to blame for her failure to gain a good knowledge of her conditions and to develop a critical attitude as she is somehow too pessimistic to make any effort to get to know and to change the world she lives in. Many characters, including Angel, Alec and even her mother, refer to Tess as a child throughout the novel. However, in the sense of thinking and problem recognition she is not a child but she is “mentally older than her mother” (Hardy 1993, 40). In spite of having a right way of thinking and of being able to see the problems, her ability to gain knowledge, through which she can change the world, is in its infancy just like her experience.
Tess was aware of the fact that “her mother’s intelligence was that of a happy child” (idem, 30) and she “felt quite a Malthusian towards her mother for thoughtlessly giving her so many little sisters and brothers when it was such a trouble to nurse and provide for them” (ibidem). Tess has a realistic view upon life as opposed to her mother, in whose look “there was a dreaminess, a preoccupation, an exaltation” (idem, 15). Tess has some knowledge of their life conditions, sees her parents critically, but because she is so obsessed with the hopelessness of their world, she has no intention of getting to know it better. She wonders “what’s the use of learning that I am one of a long row only-finding out that there is set down in some old book somebody just like me, and to know that I shall only act her part” (idem, 111). Her passiveness may be derived from her too realistic view upon her condition.
Although she has a critical attitude towards her parents and their behavior, she is not critical enough towards Alec despite the fact that “her seeming indecision was, in fact, more than indecision: it was misgiving” (idem, 43). The little community at Trantridge cannot be the only one to blame for her failure to gain more knowledge about Alec because Tess does not make any effort to befriend them. She sees them realistically and separates herself from them. Isolated from the others she fails to realize Alec’s insincere intentions by herself.
Tess’ realistic view upon her condition makes her isolated from the opportunities which would contribute to her intention of changing the world. In her view the world is “blighted” and nothing can change it. Although she sees the arising problems, she cannot provide the solution to them. When Abraham asks her which world they line on, “a splendid one or a blighted one”, without hesitating Tess says that they line on “a blighted one” (idem, 25).
Since Tess in not interested in the present condition, she fails to gain a good knowledge about it and as a consequence she cannot work out alternative solutions to the occurring problems, such as acting according to her wish or to the rules. She is so hopeless, passive and concerned about the unfairness of the world that she does not realize the occurring opportunities which would change her world.
The situation is almost the same in Hester’s case, who has no intention of changing the world she lives in, due to the fact that she has gained quite a good knowledge of the community which condemns her. Her ability to have a critical attitude towards people is the major characteristic which differentiates the two heroines from one another.
In the Puritan community neither religion nor the law allows adultery. Hester Prynne is made the icon of sin. The Puritan community cannot accept Hester’s way of living while they seem to forget that she did not choose to live in their community but she was forced by her husband.
The first time Hester is introduced to the reader she repels the official who is leading her “by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character” and she steps out of the prison “into the open air, as if by her own free will” (Hawthorne 1954, 58). From the beginning of her story, Hester’s inner strength seems to be unbroken, despite the fact that there were moments when she “underwent an agony from every footstep of those that thronged to see her” (idem, 60). Her unbroken inner strength can be driven from the fact that she does not look at herself as a sinner and she does not believe at all that her infant is the incarnated figure of adultery as she wanders that “God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child” (idem, 92). From the very first moments Hester is aware that “there can be no outrage, (…), against our common nature—whatever be the delinquencies of the individual—no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame; as it was the essence of this punishment to do” (idem, 61).
At the beginning Hester behaves just like any other tormented woman would behave in such situation. Standing “before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token which was wrought or fastened into her dress” (idem, 58). Hester knows that the only purpose of those who condemn her is to look at her as the representative of sin, they want to see her be ashamed of and want her to suffer from pangs of conscience. However, Hester is aware that by “giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman’s frailty and sinful passion” (idem, 83).
Since Hester is aware of the intentions of people and she has a good knowledge of the present conditions she is place in, she is able to provide alternative solutions to the occurring problems.
Just like Tess, she has a very clear and realistic view upon her life and upon the community in front of which “she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real” (idem, 65). As she hears the “roar of laughter burst from the multitude – each man, each woman, each little shrill-voiced child, contributing their individual part” (idem, 63) she fortifies “herself to encounter the stings and venomous stabs of public” (idem, 62).
The members of the Puritan community “who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped” (idem, 59). As an answer to what the condemning community hopes to see in her appearance, she does not show any sign of weakness. Realizing that people want to punish her by making her feel ashamed of both her scarlet letter and her little infant, “in a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would put poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbors” (idem, 58).
Hester has a good knowledge of what people expect her to behave and what the intentions of these people are, but at the same time she is also aware of the intentions of those who are in close relationship with her, like Roger Chillingworth. As opposed to Tess, who is not critical enough towards Alec’s approach, Hester has a clear understanding of her husband’s intentions. When he keeps quizzing her about the name of her infant’s father, Hester stays committed not to reveal his name. After Roger Chillingworth directly reveals that his intentions are to “seek this man” and “see him tremble” (idem, 80), Hester shows a critical attitude towards him, which allows her to see beneath her husband’s insincere deeds.
It is the same critical attitude which helps Hester to look behind the hypocrite simulation of society, since her “scarlet letter had endowed her with a new sense” as “it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts” (idem, 90).
Both Tess and Hester see their conditions realistically, but while Tess cannot think of anything which would change the world and she has no intention of getting to know more about her condition or about her opportunities, Hester is willing to gain more knowledge of the opportunities which would help her preserve her identity. In order to protect herself from the cruelty of people, “she had schooled herself long and well; she never responded to these attacks (…) she was patient, a martyr, indeed, but she forebore to pray for her enemies; lest in spite of her forgiving aspirations, the words of the blessing should stubbornly twist themselves into a curse” (idem, 89).
It is the same realistic view which makes Tess a passive and Hester an active controller of their self-formation and thus of their subjectification. Tess’ passiveness finally results in forming her as an object to the power relations upon whom others and the different social institutions can act. Hester, on the other hand, shows a denier and thus active attitude against the modes of objectification of the power relations within the Puritan community and this helps her create her own subjectivity and thus she denies remaining an object to the power relations on the social level.
The Role of Men in the Heroines’ Lives
At the end of the 18th century Jeremy Bentham developed his concept of the Panopticon. In Panopticon: Or the Inspection House (1791) he describes this Panopticon as a building which has a tower at the center and from where prisoners can be observed. “Each individual, in his place, is securely confined to a cell from which he is seen from the front by the supervisor; but the side walls prevent him from coming into contact with his companions. He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault 1995, 200). “The inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so” (idem, 201). “From the point of view of the guardian, it is replaced by a multiplicity that can be numbered and supervised; from the point of view of the inmates, by a sequestered and observed solitude” (ibidem).
In Bentham’s view this prison model provides the basic concept according to which society should be organized. Foucault says that such “disciplines function increasingly as techniques for making useful individuals” (idem, 211). Foucault argues that the Panopticon mode of control can be seen in every aspect of modern society:
“it is polyvalent in its applications; it serves to reform prisoners, but also to treat patients, to instruct schoolchildren, to confine the insane, to supervise workers, to put beggars and idlers to work. It is a type of location of bodies in space, of distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organization, of disposition of centres and channels of power, of definition of the instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can be implemented in hospitals, workshops, schools, prisoners” (idem , 205).
The Panopticon mode of observation can be traced in both examined novels. In The Scarlet Letter (1850) these appear both on social and personal level while in Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) they can be best presented in the relationship between Angel and Tess.
The present chapter is aimed at presenting that these novels are good examples of demonstrating how Foucault’s concepts of Panopticon can be shown not only on the social level but on the level of personal relationships as well. In the following subchapters I will analyze the attitudes and behaviors of the male characters and how their attitude and judgment resembles Foucault’s concepts.
Both novels present us the suffering of women in patriarchal societies, where men are superior to women and they are given the right to exercise dominance upon their wives and children who are forced to serve them.
Hester Prynne and Tess Durbeyfield are surrounded by men, who one way or another make them suffer more and contribute to the heroines’ objectification within society, either via their Panoptical observation or dividing practice over these women.
Each heroine comes into contact with two different yet similar men, whose selfish views upon life play a major role in the suffering and eventually in the partial or complete destruction of the inner world of these female characters. The male characters can be distinguished according to two criteria: on the one hand, there are those who make the heroines suffer and, on the other hand, there are those who make their suffering deeper and as a result of their selfish thinking they contribute to the destruction of these women. Independently of the type they belong to, neither of these men provides the encouraging background which is indispensable in the process of becoming a Foucauldian subject.
The primal cause of the suffering of the heroines is that in both cases they have hidden secrets from their past which have major influences upon their lives. Both Hester and Tess hold a tragic secret which, when revealed, have dreadful consequences. Both end up revealing their secrets for two reasons: on the one hand, because they do not want others to live in illusions and, on the other hand, because the pain caused by these secrets gets so deep that they cannot endure it any more.
Both authors make the heroines keep their secrets in most parts of the novels. In both cases the secrets are somehow connected to those men who believe that they have the right to cause more pain. These male characters, namely Alec d’Urberville and Roger Chillingworth, represent the true villains in these stories. They exercise the Foucauldian dividing practices in the sense that they are both certain that they are superior to women and have the right to do whatever they want without having to take responsibility for their deeds.
Before the reader meets Alec d’Urberville in the novel, Hardy intimates an important fact about his family, namely that the “d’Urberville accordingly was annexed to his” father’s name because it sounded well. The very first thing the reader gets to know about Alec and his family is that they are not trustworthy or righteous but they are fraudsters. His “almost swarthy complexion, with full lips, (…) well-groomed black moustache with curled points” and “his bold rolling eye” (Hardy 1993, 32) make the impression that he uses his physical characteristics to reach his goals. His attraction to Tess is only physical.
The same is revealed in The Scarlet Letter as, alike Alec, Roger Chillingworth is also interested in physical attractiveness. Although he was old and somber, he wanted Hester, who was young and lively, to be his wife. Both Alec and Roger represent how men are only interested in physical beauty rather than in inner beauty. They divide and thus objectify these women based on superficial judgment. They make them the objects of both society and their own action. By pointing this out both novelists emphasize how women are seen as objects by men and even if men realize that women have feelings they believe that women do not suffer because they are able to endure suffering.
It is Alec who objectifies Tess both directly and indirectly. Tess becomes directly objectified by him on the personal level. He looks at her as the object of his desire and sexual need. Alec’s harshness and objectifying attitude is revealed when after seducing Tess he says to her that she shouldn’t slip away because “nobody wished to hinder (her) going” (Hardy 1993, 67). Tess makes an excuse for her weakness by saying that “I didn’t understand your meaning till it was too late” (idem, 68). As an answer Alec makes fun of her replies: “That’s what every woman says” (ibidem). By saying this he objectifies Tess as being inferior to him both as an individual woman and as belonging to the female sex. Being deeply hurt, Tess addresses a reproachful question to Alec asking that “Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says some women may feel?” It is notable that Alec does show some repentance but in altogether he does not stop hurting Tess by his words and by talking about her beloved ones in a way in which he can manipulate her. Because he seduces and impregnates her he exercises that mode of objectification which is called dividing practice by Foucault. As I mentioned earlier, these dividing practices “qualify or disqualify people as fit and proper members of the social order” (Danaher, Schirato and Webb 2000, 61). Through his deeds he indirectly turns Tess an object who becomes judged as being an immoral member of the community.
In The Scarlet Letter Roger Chillingworth shows the same objectifying attitude to Hester making her and Pearl the means of his revenge. He presents the same coldness and harshness as Alec when he says to Hester that “even if I imagine a scheme of vengeance, what could I do better for my object than to let thee live, than to give thee medicines against all harm and peril of life, so that this burning shame may still blaze upon thy bosom” (Hawthorne 1954, 77). Chillingworth is determined that he has the right to cause more pain to Hester both directly and indirectly. Chillingworth does not care about anyone and anything apart from his revenge as it is shown by his words when he states that “I shall seek this man, as I have sought truth in books; as I have sought gold in alchemy. There is a sympathy that will make me conscious of him. I shall see him tremble. I shall feel myself shudder, suddenly and unawares. Sooner or later, he must needs be mine!” (idem, 80). He objectifies both Hester and Dimmesdale for committing adultery and sees them as the objects upon whom he can make judgment and seek revenge.
In order to succeed in seeking revenge he keeps on observing and controlling them. His deeds and aims are good examples of demonstrating how the Foucauldian Panopticon control appears in this novel. The Panopticon control can be best pointed out in Roger Chillingworth’s relationship with Arthur Dimmesdale. Chillingworth observes and even controls him in a way that Dimmesdale does not realize it. This Panopticon observation does not work as efficiently in Hester’s case since from the very beginning she is aware of the final aim of Chillingworth’s deeds. In my opinion, Chillingworth consciously tells Hester about his goal so that she would “never know whether [s]he is being looked at at any one moment; but [s]he must be sure that [s]he may always be so” (Foucault 1995, 201). I think that by letting Hester know about his aim Chillingworth hopes that she will immediately tell Dimmesdale about it and by doing this she will reveal the identity of the man Chillingworth is looking for.
The same Panopticon observation and control can be pointed out when Alec keeps on going to the different places where Tess works. He continuously says something by which he can affect her either about himself: “I had no idea of what had resulted till you told me. Scamp that I was to foul that innocent life!” (Hardy 1993, 276), either about her parents: “it is a shame for parents to bring up their girls in such dangerous ignorance of the gins and nets that the wicked may set for them, whether their motive be a good one or the result of simple indifference” (ibidem), either about Angel: “I repeat that I do not blame you. But the fact remains. When I saw you ill-used on the farm that day I was nearly mad to think that I had no legal right to protect you – that I could not have it; whilst he who has it seems to neglect you utterly!” (idem, 283). By continuously going to her Alec does not only control her but keeps on reminding her that she is still the object upon whom he can act.
Although Alec d’Urberville and Roger Chillingworth are selfish, insensitive and careless about the heroines’ feelings, they are not the ones who destroy the inner world of these women despite the fact that they are the continuous causers of the heroines’ pain. More or less the heroines are able to get over this kind of pain as time helps them endure.
Both Hester and Tess are hurt by men whom they do not love but hate to some degree. We can say that they feel a kind of compassion towards these men, on the one hand, for not being able to have feelings for others and, on the other hand, for not being able to have empathy towards others. Since they feel compassion towards them, the heroines are able to look behind the evil of these men and they are able to overcome the misery they cause. As opposed to these evil and hurtful men there are those who do not just hurt these women but deny them, which make these men appear even more harmful. The pain these “destroying men” cause is not the result of what they do to the heroines but what they do not do for them.
Ironically, the two “destroying men” are the ones who are supposed to give the most support to the heroines, namely Angel Clare and Mr. Dimmesdale. Neither of them is able to overcome their strong and selfish beliefs. They both have strict beliefs, which eventually lead to their failure.
Angel’s strict moral beliefs and ideals have a major role in forming his relationship with Tess. He is a man just like Alec and he believes that he has the right to condemn and control others. Just like Alec, Angel also exercises the Foucauldian Panopticon control on Tess however Angel’s control is a bit different. Alec’s control and continuous observation is aimed at making an effect on Tess and having control over what she does and thinks about others, including Angel. Angel’s control, on the other hand, is aimed at forming Tess’ belief and image about herself. Angel unconsciously prevents her from revealing her true identity by forcing his ideal upon Tess.
By depriving Tess from her true identity Angel exercises those dividing practices which objectify Tess in several different ways. Firstly, Angel sees her not as the subject of his love, but as the object of his ideal.
He has a strong belief about the ideal woman he wants. When he meets Tess, all his notions seem to be put into her beautifully described face and personality as he wonders “What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!” (Hardy 1993, 106). Angel seems to be in love with the “visionary essence of woman” (idem, 115) he sees in Tess and not with Tess herself. He objectifies her in the sense that he does not see the real woman in Tess but the ideal he associates with her. This makes Angel look even more villain than Alec. The fact that Angel is not truly in love with Tess could be the answer for his easily made decision to leave her after she is finally allowed to tell her secret.
Angel is disappointed by the ideal woman he sees in Tess and not by Tess. He says to her that “You were one person; now you are another” and “the woman I have been loving is not you” but “another woman in your shape” (ibidem). By denying forgiveness Angel hurts Tess more than anyone else before. As a consequence Tess falls deeper in remorse and by blaming herself for everything she fails to be critical towards Angel. By the time Angel realizes that it was not Tess who hurt him but the ideal he associated with her it is already too late.
We can also see his objectifying attitude when Tess forgives him for his failure but he cannot overcome his rough moral belief to forgive her because “forgiveness does not apply to the case” (idem, 200). He divides her on his strict belief that what Tess did is unacceptable but what he did is acceptable.
He also distinguishes Tess based on her social status when Tess tries to make him see their relationship differently, saying that: “my mother says that it sometimes happens so – she knows several cases where they were worse than I, and the husband has not minded it much – has got over it at least. And yet the woman has not loved him as I do you!” (idem, 203). As an answer Angel replies: “Don’t, Tess; don’t argue. Different societies, different manners” (ibidem). “I think that parson who unearthed your pedigree would have done better if he had held his tongue. I cannot help associating your decline as a family with this other fact – of your want of firmness. Decrepit families imply decrepit wills, decrepit conduct. Heaven, why did you give me a handle for despising you more by informing me of your descent!” (idem, 204).
After being objectified for being a woman by Alec, now Tess is objectified for belonging to the lower class. Angel does not look at her as an individual but as the representative of the “decrepit” lower class despite the fact that she tells him: “I am only a peasant by position, not by nature” (idem, 203).
A similar social distinction appears in The Scarlet Letter (1850) when Dimmesdale denies both Hester and his sin because he is afraid of the Puritan community’s judgment. It is their social positions which allow Dimmesdale not to take responsibility for his deed but make Hester to be condemned for the same deed.
In this sense he divides Hester from himself as he chooses not to admit his sin and lets Hester take all the blame. Hester receives a cold refusal from Dimmesdale. He does not show any sympathy towards Hester even though he knows that her shame is evident for everyone. Although they committed almost the same sin, Dimmesdale looks at his situation in a totally different way. Despite the fact that he says he loves her he does not care about Hester’s feelings, his own feelings and struggles are more important to him. Ironically, the person who asks Hester to “speak out the name” (Hawthorne 1954, 73) of the men with whom she committed adultery is Arthur Dimmesdale. He is expecting Hester to tell the name and when she says that she “will not speak” (ibidem) he draws “back, with a long respiration” (ibidem).
By showing his weakness directly to Hester he exercises a kind of psychological control on Hester. As a sinner he is weak and he struggles because “no man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true” (idem, 215). By showing his struggle directly he unconsciously controls Hester to take up the blame and not to reveal his identity.
Dimmesdale’s guilt is continuously revealed throughout the novel. The reader finds out his hidden secret step by step and at the same time realizes how unfairly Hester was treated by Dimmesdale.
However, his weakness cannot be the reason for letting Hester down because after all his suffering is only the result of his decisions. The reader does not feel sympathy for him but to some degree he feels sorry for Dimmesdale. At the end he is a victim of society just like Hester. In this sense, Hawthorne points out the harshness of the Puritans not only to Hester but to Dimmesdale as well.
Neither Tess nor Hester receives the needed support they should get from the men surrounding them. Not just they do not provide the encouragement these women would need, but each of them cares more about himself than about the heroines. These male characters do not help the heroines to become independent individuals as they are left to deal alone with the pain caused by these men. Each one of them plays a major role in the misery the heroines go through.
Hierarchy of Sins
Some say that independently of the kind of the sin one commits there is always another person who falls victim of that sin. The main characters of the examined novels are considered the greatest sinners because they commit crimes against others both on personal and social levels. However, there is a question which, consciously or unconsciously, arises in every reader regarding whether these women are the only ones who commit crimes which affect both their relatives and society.
The present chapter is aimed at revealing an answer to this directly unanswered question but to which there exists a hidden answer in every reader.
At the end of Discipline and Punish (1975) Foucault introduces the concept of the carceral system (Foucault 1995, 271). In his view “the carceral system combines in a single figure discourses and architectures, coercive regulation and scientific propositions, real social effects and invincible utopias, programmes for correcting delinquents and mechanisms that reinforce delinquency” (ibidem).
The basic principle of Foucault’s concept of carceral system can be viewed as the core of the method in which both the Puritan and the Victorian societies practice control over their members. Foucault argues that prisons and carceral systems are aimed at stating delinquency in order to have control over people’s behavior (ibidem). The presented societies use the well-formed images of sin and delinquency in order to control people’s behavior, deeds and attitudes. They form these concepts in order to distinguish the moral from the immoral. They are more preoccupied with creating these images and stating what a person must not do than with stating what a person can or should do as a member of a particular community.
One of the first evidences for the importance of emphasizing delinquency and sin in The Scarlet Letter (1850) is that “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison” (Hawthorne 1954, 53). Although this quotation is taken from the shortest chapter of the novel, it is notable because it points out the expectations that a reader can have towards the Puritan community.
The setting of the cemetery so early is understandable because death is part of human existence and half of the settlers died during the first year the Puritans spent in New England. Nevertheless, the narrator notes that “some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town, the wooden jail was already” set (ibidem). According to the Puritan perception, everyone sins and since the laws of the government were based on religious beliefs, those who committed a sin had to be punished and the prison was one of the earliest means of punishment.
The mood and atmosphere of the town are set by the realistic description of the prison. Its door was “marked with weather-stains”, it had a “beetle-browed and gloomy front” and the “oaken door looked more antique than anything else in the New World” (ibidem). The whole town seems to be stuck in the Ancient times and with its overgrown burdock, pigweed and unsightly vegetation it looks cold and rigid in which the prison is “the black flower of civilised society” (idem, 54).
Foucault draws attention to the fact that “in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the disciplines became general formulas of domination” (Foucault 1995, 137). Foucault argues that different societies establish different social institutions, like prisons, schools and barracks, in order to have discipline upon others. He also expounds that the main purpose of these institutions is to form the views of people so that it is the most efficient for a particular community. Foucault exemplifies this by saying that “good handwriting, for example, presupposes a gymnastics – a whole routine whose rigorous code invests the body in its entirety, from the points of the feet to the tip of the index finger” (idem, 152).
A kind of discipline is manifested in Hester’s imprisonment. She is imprisoned because the magistrates want to purify the town from all kind of sins. Nevertheless, her imprisonment has got another, deeper purpose; the magistrates want to change her way of thinking and her view upon herself and her “sin”. The same disciplining purpose can be understood by Angel’s attitude by which he forces his views upon Tess both about herself and about his strict moral values.
In both novels the most significant delinquency these communities state is having an illegitimate child. By emphasizing the sinfulness of such a deed society controls the relationships, decisions and thus the lives of its members. I believe that there are other purposes of emphasizing delinquency besides having control on people’s views.
In my view, people also attempt to hide their own mistakes by emphasizing the sins and delinquencies of certain members in a particular community. We can say that the same thing happens in both novels as all of the minor characters keep on emphasizing the sins of the heroines’ and of others as well. For instance, Chillingworth is preoccupied with the sin Hester and Arthur commit, Alec blames Angel for leaving Tess while Angel blames him for seducing her.
Hester is considered a sinner because she commits a crime against her husband, Roger Chillingworth, and against the Puritan society. Neither the husband nor the community knows forgiveness or self-criticism. They choose the easier way, that is, to consider Hester the scapegoat and blame her for everything.
Hardy points out the same hypocritical attitude on the part of the Victorian society. Tess’ story points out how the law of this society is not applied equally to every member. On the one hand, Tess becomes an outcast as the result of having a sexual relationship with Alec before marriage, while Alec does not have to take responsibility for his actions. However, Alec’s hypocrisy is not the greatest shock to the reader as from the very first moment we are aware of his unsympathetic behavior. This does not make his sin smaller than Tess’ because after all she was an innocent young girl and he should not have taken advantage of that.
Still, we can say that Alec’s sin is not as harsh as Angel’s. Angel appears to be caring and loving and then he stabs Tess in the back for not forgiving the same sin as his own, which is forgiven. His hypocrisy is revealed in his revolt against the strict views of his time, while he himself cannot get over his own strict moral views. He is a seducer just like Alec, but while Alec causes slowly passing pain, the misery caused by Angel determines Tess’ life forever.
He unwillingly forces Tess to marry him even though she is hesitating and then he blames her for doing that. Since Angel is in love with the ideal Tess represents he does not care about her secret and continuously prevents her from telling it to him. Finally, when she reveals her past to him, she receives a cold rejection which destroys her last hope for happiness. The same unfairness of the social law appears again when Angel’s affair with an older woman is accepted but Tess’ seduction by a superior and well-known seducer is not accepted.
Tess’ objectification as the representative of the fallen woman can be traced back to the objectification of her “sin”. The Foucauldian dividing practices work on the level of the committed sins as well. Tess is considered the greatest sinner by everyone, including Angel despite the fact that her loving, caring and hard-working personality does not change.
Similarly to Tess’ treatment, Hester’s objectification “-83) derives from distinguishing her “sin” from the sins of others. She is the only one who is punished for adultery, while the identity of the man who commits the same crime is not so important. The fact that society is only interested in punishing Hester demonstrates that people consciously or unconsciously consider her the scapegoat at whom they can point their fingers.
The only person who stays interested in finding out the identity of that man is Roger Chillingworth. Chillingworth’s greatest sin is hypocrisy. He pretends to be a friend, an honest and helpful member of the community, while in reality his only and most important goal is to seek revenge on Dimmesdale. His other sin is that he is not a good husband as he only cares about his books and studies. He lets her young wife go and live in a community not known by herself. Chillingworth does not go through any kind of mental change. Seven years after seeing Hester on the scaffold he is still determined to seek revenge on Dimmesdale.
Just like Angel, Arthur Dimmesdale is not a supporting but a denier man. He chooses to hide his sin from the Puritan community. What is more, he cares about his own suffering more than about Hester’s or his daughter’s public punishment. As opposed to Hester, who openly assumes the consequences of her deeds, Dimmesdale does not only participate in committing adultery, but his is also guilty of being hypocritical. The reason why society does not punish him is that it does not know that he is a greater sinner than she is, but even if it knew about his deed we cannot be sure that he would be treated just like her.
The fact that the heroines’ “sins” are treated and judged differently gives another evidence for how the Foucauldian dividing practices and thus objectification affect the heroines’ success or failure in the process of self-formation.
Public and Personal Punishment
I believe that emphasizing delinquency also serves as a means of punishment. The fact that society bans these women, without questioning the pertinence of its judgment, suggests that in a carceral society delinquency is used rather as a means of punishment than as a means of controlling and forming people’s moral values. I also think that it is rather a means of personal or inner punishment than public punishment.
In Discipline and Punish (1975) Foucault states that “the soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body” (Foucault 1995, 30). He also argues that “It would be wrong to say that the soul is an illusion, or an ideological effect. On the contrary, it exists, it has a reality, it is produced permanently around, on, within the body by the functioning of a power that is exercised on those punished – and, in a more general way, on those one supervises, trains and corrects, over madmen, children at home and at school, the colonized, over those who are stuck at a machine and supervised for the rest of their lives” (idem, 29). The soul “is not born in sin and subject to punishment, but is born rather out of methods of punishment, supervision and constraints” (ibidem). It is an important element of human existence “in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power and the reference of a certain type of knowledge” (ibidem).
During the second half of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century a change occurred in the methods of punishment. Earlier, the body of the condemned was in the center of punishment. Later on there was a shift from the body to the soul of the condemned. “Physical pain, the pain of the body itself, is no longer the constituent element of the penalty. From being an art of unbearable sensations punishment has become an economy of suspended rights.” (idem, 11).
Neither Hardy nor Hawthorne is interested in the causes that lead to committing a sin; they are more interested in the consequences that follow a sinful deed. As a consequence of their deeds, both women experience a public punishment execution. However, there is a difference between the executions of the punishments, which may be explained by the fact that the two societies presented in the novels are separated by almost two centuries. Foucault explains that before the 17th century the trail was kept in secret while the torture and the punish execution was public and spectacular. Hester Prynne’s punishment is to stand on the scaffold in front of the Puritan community and she also has to wear the scarlet letter A on her gown. Her punishment is public and the crowd “appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue” (Hawthorne 1954, 55-56).
After the 18th century there is a change in punishment; now the trial was made public and the punish execution was kept in secret. Tess does go through a kind of public punishment when she returns to Marlott expecting her child but her punishment for killing Alec is not public at all. This shows the change which has taken place in the interest of the public following the 18th century; people are no more interested in the public punishment of the condemned.
According to Foucault, starting from the 18th century the punishment afflicts the soul rather than the body of the condemned. In both novels the emphasis of the heroines’ delinquencies appears as a means of the punishment of their souls.
Looking at Hester, a young woman in the crowd states that there is “not a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it in her heart” (Hawthorne 1954, 60).The heroines’ greatest punishment is the pain they experience within their souls.
As a consequence of her adultery, Hester is outcast from society and “the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast,—at her, the child of honorable parents,—at her, the mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman, —at her, who had once been innocent, —as the figure, the body, the reality of sin” (Hawthorne 1954, 83). Tess also experiences a kind of excommunication during her stay at Trantridge and she is considered to be a fallen woman not only by society but by Angel as well.
However, in my view their isolation is not a harsh punishment as the fact that they both become refused and denied. Angel’s refusal of Tess and Arthur’s denial of Hester provides their greatest punishments.
The fifth chapter of Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) is entitled The Woman Pays. There is no doubt that it gives a pertinent summary of the processes that take place in both novels. It also suggests and reminds us of the first mode of the Foucauldian dividing practices (objectification) which reveal those processes by which people become divided. The fact that only “the woman pays” (Hardy 1993, 199) demonstrates how the punishments of the heroines are also objectified. They become punished differently either because of their social status, sex or the kind of sin they commit.
Every character in these novels participates in the punishments of these heroines to some degree. The participations of the male characters provide those power relations which play an important part in the self-formation of these women whether they deny them, take advantage of them or condemn them. The others’ sin is just as heavy as Hester’s or Tess’ sin. These women’s success or failure in becoming Foucauldian subjects is determined by the others surrounding them. Sooner or later both these women realize that they are the victims of the conditions they are placed in.
Sinners or Saints
“The Greeks, who were apparently strong on visual aids, originated the term stigma to refer to bodily signs designed to expose something unusual and bad about the moral status of the signifier” (Goffman 1986, 5). Erving Goffman argues that the term stigma refers to “an attribute that is deeply discrediting” but “not all undesirable attributes are at issue, but only those which are incongruous with our stereotypes of what a given type of individual should be” (idem, 6). “The stigma, then, is really a special kind of relationship between attribute and stereotype” (ibidem).
In the examined novels Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Hardy give an outstanding presentation of two communities which make discrediting judgment on the main characters. Based on their stereotypes they develop their own images of these women.
Goffman states that people continuously “make certain assumptions as to what the individual before us ought to be. Thus, the demands we make might better be called demands made “in effect,” and the character we impute to the individual might better be seen as an imputation made in potential retrospect – a characterization “in effect,” a virtual social identity. The category and attributes he could in fact be proved to possess will be called his actual social identity” (idem, 5).
According to Erving Goffman, there are three types of stigma based on which the members of a particular society form one’s virtual social identity.
“First there are abominations of the body – the various physical deformities. Next there are blemishes of individual character perceived as weak will, domineering or unnatural passions, treacherous and rigid beliefs and dishonesty, these being inferred from a known record of, for example, mental disorder, imprisonment, addiction, alcoholism, homosexuality, unemployment, suicidal attempts, and radical political behavior. Finally, there are the tribal stigma of race, nation, and religion, these being stigma that can be transmitted through lineages and equally contaminate all members of a family” (idem, 7).
In other words, Goffman distinguishes between physical stigma, stigma of character traits and stigma of group or tribal identity. He also argues that these seemingly different stigmas merge together. People are continuously seeking to expand one onto the other two. For instance, they continuously link the character trait stigma with the stigma of tribal identity. The main question is whether you have a stigma or not, because if you have, sooner or later people will expand it to every one of your attributes.
A similar phenomenon happens in both novels. The heroines become stigmatized based on their character trait stigmas or ‘moral’ failings (Perez 2014, par. 4) since they are both considered sinful and the members of their communities expand these onto the other attributes.
As a result of the violation of the moral law of society they are both given virtual social identities which are not the same as their actual social identities. In this sense, Hester and Tess are given a double self-image which consists of: “the self-image resulting from how the individual sees himself or herself and the self-image resulting from how others see the individual”.
Hester’s stigma begins as a result of committing adultery. From the moment she is considered an immoral woman the formation of her virtual social identity by the Puritans begins. They start to stigmatize her based on her ‘moral’ failings and call her a “hussy” and a “naughty baggage”, who “has brought shame upon us (the Puritan women) all and ought to die” (Hawthorne 1954, 56-57).
Tess is also called a “hussy” (Hardy 1993, 58). She could not escape from the gossip “the people who had turned their heads turned them again as the service proceeded; and at last observing her they whispered to each other” (Hardy 1993, 75).
Based on Goffman’s observations we can say that both the Puritan and the Victorian society expand the heroines’ character stigma to their physical and group identity or tribal stigma.
The Puritan magistrates oblige Hester to wear the scarlet letter A as a sign of her physical stigma, which is adultery. In Tess’ case her character stigma is expanded to her tribal stigma. Angel says directly to Tess that “decrepit families imply decrepit wills, decrepit conduct” (idem, 204). She is not a “new-sprung child of nature” any more but “the belated seeding on an effete aristocracy” (idem, 204).
Each of these heroines is stigmatized in almost every possible way. Although it is their virtual social identities which are being stigmatized their actual social identities are still deeply influenced and determined. In my view, it is the impact of the stigmatization on their actual social identities which points out one of the most significant differences between Hester and Tess, and which eventually lead to Tess’ downfall and failure to become a Foucauldian subject.
The intensity of the impact of their stigmatizations can be traced back to the decisions they make after having been stigmatized. Hester, on the one hand, decides to remain in the town. Her actual social identity is best shown by the fact that after she is released from prison she is free to leave the town but she realizes that she has some control in creating her individuality and thus forming her life and she ends up saying to herself that “here (…) had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul, and work out another purity than that which she had lost; more saintlike, because the result of martyrdom” (Hawthorne 1954, 84).
Tess, on the other hand, has a totally different view: “to escape the past and all that appertained thereto was to annihilate it, and to do that she would have to get away” (Hardy 1993, 87). She leaves the past behind but she remains “hunted everywhere” (Chen Zhen, 41). “Under the great pressure of social prejudice, Tess is driven to leave home to try her fortune drifting from place to place. She is like the rabbits, hares, snakes, rats and mice, “retreating inwards as into a fastness, unaware of the ephemeral nature of their refuge and of the doom that awaited them later”” (idem, 40-41).
Nevertheless, Tess is not driven to leave only by herself but by the community as well: “Ever since the occurrence of the event which had cast such a shadow over Tess’s life, the Durbeyfield family (whose descent was not credited) had been tacitly looked on as one which would have to go when their lease ended, if only in the interest of morality” (Hardy 1993, 310). “Once a girl deviates from the normal standards of virginity, she will be pushed down to the ground forever” (Chen Zhen, 38). Her parents are also responsible for her failure to regain her lost actual social identity since “the household had not been shining examples either of temperance, soberness, or chastity. The father, and even the mother, had got drunk at times, the younger children seldom had gone to church and the eldest daughter had made queer unions” (Hardy 1993, 310).
We can say that both her parents and Angel contribute to the strengthening of her stigma and to the growing of the gap between her virtual and actual social identities.
Hardy’s pessimistic view upon the conditions that dominated in the Victorian area is presented in Tess’ continuous hopelessness: “Once victim, always victim – that’s the law!” (idem, 291). The fact that the Victorian community cannot forgive or at least accept the failure of an inexperienced 16-year-old girl confirms that Tess is a “victim of social prejudice and male dominance in Victorian patriarchal society” (Chen Zhen, 36).
Hawthorne’s view upon the Puritan community and on Hester’s condition is much more optimistic in this sense. The Scarlet Letter (1850) depicts the fading of Hester’s stigma. In my view this fading is what contributes to the changing of her virtual social identity in the eyes of the Puritans. Her staying, hard-working, perseverance and helpfulness give her physical stigma (the letter A) and thus her character trait stigma a new meaning:
“Individuals in private life, meanwhile, had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty; nay, more, they had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of that one sin, for which she had borne so long and dreary a penance, but of her many good deeds since. ‘Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge?’ they would say to strangers. ‘It is our Hester, the town’s own Hester, who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!’ (…) It was none the less a fact, however, that, in the eyes of the very men who spoke thus, the scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun’s bosom.” (Hawthorne 1954, 164).
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d`Urbervilles (1891) are two canonical literary works which have been analyzed so many times, in so many ways, by so many people, including critics, journalists, teachers and students. Throughout the years, these novels have occupied such central positions in the English literary canon that result in everyone knowing them. There are many people who have read them, people who have not read them and people who have the impression of having read them.
The themes, motifs, characters, relationships and problems that appear in these stories seem familiar to many people that they feel that without even reading further or looking deeper, they have enough information in order to make a judgment. The heroines, Hester Prynne and Tess Durbeyfield, have been said to be “innocent”, “pure”, “sinful”, “fallen” and “immoral”, just to mention a few. But these novels are two of those outstanding literary works that continuously confirm the saying: “You cannot judge a book by its cover”.
It has not been my task to demonstrate the purity or the sinfulness of these women, but rather to point out those surrounding effects that contribute both to their initial “sinfulness” and to their eventual “innocence” and “purity”.
As we could see, both heroines become objectified (distinguished) on their social status, sex and sin. They fall victims of male dominance, narrow-mindedness, “snobbish ethical bias and pernicious morality standards” (Chen Zhen, 36). Nevertheless, the examination of these repressive forces pointed out that only the environment cannot be blamed for the formation of their virtual social identities, especially in Tess’s case. At the same time it revealed how the formation and stability of their actual social identities were determined by their critical attitude towards both society and the male characters. As demonstrated, it is their critical attitude, will to gain knowledge and attempt to change their world that differentiates the two heroines from each other.
In conclusion, we can say that the surrounding power relations and the heroines’ attitudes eventually lead to Hester’s success and Tess’ failure in becoming Foucauldian individuals, who have the power to act and control their own lives. However, based on the analysis that this paper gives, it could be said that Tess is not a real failure as it is not her who fails, but the whole system she lives in.
A potential aim of a further analysis could be to point out how the other characters are affected and determined in their process of becoming Foucaudian individuals by the failed society in which they live. Such an analysis could include the examination of the virtual and actual social identities of both the male characters and the presented communities in both novels. A further theme for an analysis could be the examination of nature, namely how it represents, hides or reveals the heroines’ sins, struggling and failure or success in life.
Each of these potential viewpoints of analysis, including the one presented in this paper, can be disproved or contradicted, but each one of those plenty critiques and analyses that have been written throughout the years are valuable.
The initial aim of the present paper was to enrich the existing images of Hester Prynne and Tess Durbeyfield by demonstrating that we cannot just consider them sinful or innocent but they can be viewed as “innocent culprits”. They are neither exclusively the sinners nor exclusively the victims of the power relations surrounding them but they are the ones who suffer for being punished both on personal and social levels.
Sooner or later both these women realize that they are just as vulnerable as the others. Their everyday sufferings, hopes, happiness and failures make the reader feel so close to them and for us that is what makes these women “innocent culprits.”
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