The Tragic Protagonist in Tess of the dUrbervilles by Thomas Hardy and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

The tragic protagonist is always left powerless in tragedies

In Tess of the D’Urbervilles-Fate and Pre-determined destiny is a pervading theme throughout, the powerlessness Victorian women felt is conveyed by Hardy through the construct of Tess, within this construct her powerless position is almost a necessity.

When Tess was raped by Alec, she is not only physically dominated, as ‘she was sleeping soundly’ showing that she is physically vulnerable to him, but emotionally and metaphorically dominated. ‘Upon her eyelashes lingered tears’, the portrayal of Tess crying shows her emotional hurt and turmoil she is experiencing at this moment, however unfortunately, this was Hardy’s sign of fate that this was just the beginning of the powerlessness Tess will feel, she will continue to be a victim of her own fate throughout the novel.

Hardy demonstrates the inevitability of the rape in the strawberry scene, where Tess visits Alec and he tries to feed her a strawberry. Although Tess ‘would rather take it from her own hands and initially tries to grasp control over the situation, she is soon succumbed to Victorian societal expectations where women are expected to comply to a man’s orders.

Soon Tess loses the power she attempted to gain and ‘parted her lips and took it in’-showing that her powerlessness is simply inevitable and inescapable. Hardy here, also foreshadows the rape and the recur rant dominations Tess experiences using sexual imagery, ‘parted her lips’ are also symbolic of Tess’ legs, which is a strong sign of the rape she was ‘doomed to receive.

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Alternatively Tess could be viewed as a strong-willed girl, who challenged the patriarchal society she is constructed within, as highlighted when Tess visits the vicar to have sorrow a Christian burial. The vicar who oppresses Tess and complies with the expectations he is set by the authority of the churchexplains he ‘really must not’. Tess shows not to comply immediately and rises above her station crying ‘O Sir!’ the lamination Hardy uses here demonstrates Tess desperation and conveys crying of the soul. This coveys Tess’ willingness to stand he ground and challenge the vicar. In Victorian England a vicar was an extremely respected authority of the church, having been chosen by God to represent Jesus Christ on earth. Therefore Hardy purposefully crafts Tess’ challenge to the Vicar to be all the more shocking to a Victorian reader, perhaps showing her as having some power and the ability to take control of her fate. However Tess is rejected by the vicar as a finality, Hardy reminds us of her status and lack of power by taking us, the reader, back around the cyclical pattern of fate the Tess is stuck in.

Willy Loman is a very different protagonist to that of Tess, crafted by Miller as victimised less by society, and more a victim of himself and his own beliefs. Whereas Tess is completely a victim of society and her fated journey offers her no escapes and opportunities to take control-Willy is offered this, however he fails to take them. Which raises the question, of what or who is Willy Loman victimised by?

Miller portrays Willy as a flawed character, his hubris is penetrative throughout the novel, blocking off his chances of grasping control and power of his life. Miller demonstrates this to us when Willy tells Biff and Happy he is’ vital in New England’, this shows he thinks he is not only the main business man keeping an economy afloat-being so far from the truth it’s almost satire from Miller-but also this reflects how Willy views himself in their home. Willy believes that he is the bread-winner of the house and supports and holds together his family-as he is brainwashed by American expectations to believe that he isn’t a true man if he doesn’t achieve this. His delusion and self-deception here conveys his hamartia (blindness). The fact that Willy cannot recognise his hamartia and change his behaviour and beliefs shows him to be powerless to himself, he is victimised by his own beliefs, making his downfall all the more inevitable.

Although Miller portrays Willy as powerless, arguably throughout the majority of the novel, Willy’s death can be argued to be the cowards’ way out and to be driven by the American dream and how he couldn’t fulfil it. However it can also be argued to be Willy taking control of his end. Willy is aware he is ‘worth more dead than alive’, this can be viewed as the pivotal point in the play leading up to the climax of his death. For Willy this realisation and acceptance that he does in fact have no money and he isn’t successful as a business man can be seen as an epiphany for Willy, and he then decided to be the hero, not the victim and to kill himself. Miller is showing Willy accepting he isn’t in control of his life so far, however he has realised he can gain power of what happens after his life. By sacrificing his pride and his life for his family, arguably he is taking power of his life and being the hero. In the sense, Willy’s death was not the ending of his life and the denouement of the play, but instead the beginning and start of a new life for everyone. The fact Willy is able to recognise this shows the power he has gained over his hamartia, he has in a way, lifted off his delusional veil and taken control of his future.

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The Tragic Protagonist in Tess of the dUrbervilles by Thomas Hardy and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. (2021, Dec 21). Retrieved from

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