The theme of alienation in the major novels of Thomas Hardy
The predicament of human isolation and alienation is a pervasive theme that has not been sufficiently studied in Thomas Hardy's fiction. This study investigates the theme of alienation focussing on Hardy's major novels. Although the term 'alienation' is one of the most outstanding features of this age, it is not very clear what it precisely means. The writer has to draw extensively on Hegel, Marx, Fromm and other thinkers to understand the complex ramifications of the term. The numerous connections in which the term has been used are restricted to include only a few meanings and applications among which the most important refers to a disparity between one's society and one's spiritual interests or welfare. The theme of alienation, then, is investigated in representative texts from the wide trajectory of Victorian literature. It is clear that the central intellectual characteristic of the Victorian age is, as Arnold diagnosed it, "the sense of want of correspondence between the forms of modern Europe and its spirit". The increasing difficulty of reconciling historical and spiritual perspectives has become a major theme for Hardy and other late Victorians. Next, each of Hardy's major novels is given a chapter in which the theme of alienation is traced. In Far from the Madding Crowd, Boldwood's neurotic and self-destructive nature makes him obsessed with Bathsheba, and as a result, murders Troy and suffers the isolation of life imprisonment; Fanny Robin's tragic and lonely death, only assisted by a dog, is a flagrant indictment of society. In The Return of the Native, Clym is the earliest prototype in Hardy's fiction of alienated modern man. He returns to Egdon Heath only to live in isolation unable to communicate with the very people whom he thought of as a cure for his alienation. Eustacia has consistently been leading a life of alienation in Egdon Heath which leads to her suicide. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Henchard's alienation may be more ascribed to his own character, recalling Boldwood, than to incongruity with society. Yet Hardy emphasises the tendency of society towards modernity which Henchard cannot cope with. In The Woodlanders, not only does wild nature fail to be a regenerative and productive force bet also human nature fails to be communicative and assuring. The people of Little Hintock fail to communicate with iry other. The relationship between Marty and Giles is an "obstructed relationship"; Giles dies a sacrificial death, and Marty ends as a wreck in a rare scene hardly credible in a newly emerging world. Fitzpiers and Mrs Charmond, on the other hand, are isolated in the sterile enclosure of their own fantasies. Grace, anticipating Tess and Sue, is torn in a conflict between two worlds, neither of which can happily accommodate her. In Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Tess, after her childhood experiences at Marlott and later at Trantridge, soon discovers how oppressive society is,particularly when she is rejected by Angel, whom she loves and through whom she aspires to fulfil herself. Angel suffers from self-division in his character, and the conflict between received attitudes and advanced ideas leaves him an embodiment of an alienated man hardly able to reconcile the values of two worlds. Jude the Obscure is Hardy's most complete expression of alienation. Jude's alienation is explicitly social and implicitly cosmic, and his failure to identify himself in society constitutes a major theme of the novel. The novel foreshadows the modern themes of failure, frustration, futility, disharmony, isolation, rootlessness, and absurdity as inescapable conditions of life. In conclusion, the theme of alienation in the major novels of Thomas Hardy is a pervasive one. Nevertheless, not all his characters are alienated; however their happy condition, like that of the rustics in Gray's Elegy, is seen to stem from their intellectual limitations.