What’s In A Name?

Names play a central role in the events of the first section of “Tess of the D’Ubervilles.” The first scene we are presented with is Jack being called “Sir John” by a parson, which serves as a catalyst for the story. Jack becomes stricken with delusions of grandeur. He repeatedly calls himself Sir John, makes allusions to having treasure, and “dreamily” (47) hopes that Alec showed Tess his diamond ring. At no point does Jack seem to be worthy of the riches that his title would endow him. His drunkenness makes him a laughing-stock in the novel. While Jack is named immediately by Hardy, Alec’s name is withheld throughout most of his first time meeting Tess. By not immediately naming Alec, Hardy creates an aura of mystery around his character, making Alec a clear foil to Jack: Alec is manipulative, where Jack is simple-minded and clearly motivated.

Naming something gives mankind a semblance of power over it. Power is another key theme in the first section of the novel. The central protagonist, Tess, has her agency stripped away from her by Alec. First, she hesitatingly agrees to leave her family to marry him, and then he rapes her at the end of the section. All of this is in service to her family members, who are trying to determine if their name is different than they originally thought. They place the importance of learning their name for material gain above the well-being of their daughter, which is an indication of the type of power that names can have.


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