The Role of Fate & Chance in Thomas Hardy's Novel

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      In Hardy's novels, Fate plays a very important part Sometimes it appears that human beings in his world have no individual life of their own, they are controlled by Fate. Not only this, it appears they are controlled by Fate from outside as well as from within. In other words it means that Fate interferes in the lives of human beings through some external happenings. For example, Newson in The Mayor of Casterbridge appears just at the time when Henchard most needed the help of his step-daughter Elizabeth Jane. Newson claims back Elizabeth Jane and Henchard feels greater loneliness, which led him to desperate acts. In this case, Fate works from outside. But fate, in Hardy, works from within the characters as well. It is just a matter of Fate that Jude with his intellectual aspirations also had a high degree of sensuousness, which led to his misfortune. Thus, to repeat it once again, one of the strongest impressions that one gets on reading Hardy's novels is that Fate is all-powerful and it works both from within the characters and outside of them. The noted Hardy critic, David Cecil says: "A struggle between the man on the one hand and, on the other an omnipotent and indifferent Fate—that is Hardy's interpretation of the human situation."

Man’s Life in Hands of Fate

      Thus, there is a conflict in the novels of Hardy but it is not a conflict between one man and another, or between man and an institution. In Hardy's books, man has to fight against impersonal forces, called in a general way: Fate. Henchard is full of hatred for Farfrae, Bathsheba considers Troy as the main cause of her unhappiness. But actually, those who they think their enemies are as much as themselves puppets in the hands of Fate. Fate, is ultimately responsible for their quarrels. Unless they were destined to do so. They would not be in conflict with each other and indeed it is significant that Hardy—as a rule—emphasizes the fact that even those characters the world would call wicked, who are so much the creatures of circumstance that they are far more to be pitied than to be blamed. Tess is a noble girl. She has no wish to make other people unhappy, only, forced by the pressure of her nature, she throws aside anything that checks her way. Fate is her enemy, as it is that of her rivals "Justice was done and the President of the Immortals had ended his sport with Tess" — in that sentence we have the very essence of Thomas Hardy's idea of human life. Man is a creature in the hands of an impenetrable Fate, cold, passionless and indiscriminating. In his own words it is:

"The purposive, unmotived, dominant Thing
Which sways in brooding dark their wayfaring"

      In the hands of this "unmotived dominant Thing" human beings are helpless:

"As flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods—
They kill us for their sport."

Various Forms of Fate

      Hardy presents this blind indifferent Fate in various forms. Sometimes it appears as a natural force. Henchard's plans for making himself rich are brought to nothing by a bad harvest, the weather takes the part of fate here. Sometimes, Fate appears as some inner weakness of character. Angel Clare's life becomes unhappy because from the very birth he did not have enough of the animal in him. But Fate in the novels of Hardy generally appears in two forms: (I) as chance, and (2) as love. Of these, chance is the most common. In no other novel does chance play such an important part in the lives of people. For example, at the very beginning of her life as a young girl, Tess meets the wrong man. A few days before she marries Angel Glare, she pushes under the door of his bed-room, a written letter full of compassion, which slips under the carpet where it remains until found by Tess on the wedding morning. On a Sunday, Tess walks fifteen miles to the house of the Angel Glare to seek protection there is no answer to her ring at the door, for the family is at Church. Just as a matter of chance indeed. At just the wrong time she now meets Alec once more. A letter she sends to Angel in Brazil is delayed, and he reaches home a few days late. On all these occasions Fate in the form of chance stood in the way of Tess's happiness. Examples of this type can be given from almost all the novels of Hardy.

Chance and Fate Dominate in Hardy's Debate

      Thus, it is clear that in the novel of no other novelist do Chance and Fate play such an important part on the course of events as in Hardy's. Hardy has been blamed for this. And no doubt, he does sometimes overdoes it. But to condemn his use of chance altogether is to misunderstand his view of life. When we read his novels, we are witnessing a battle between Man and Destiny. Destiny is an unknown force, we do not know its nature or its intentions. And we cannot, therefore, predict what it will do. As a result of this, its acts always show themselves in the form of unexpected blows of chance. The world of his novels is by no means a world in which all things can be reduced to obvious law and explained by common sense. The strange, the unexpected, the inexplicable occur everywhere and always. The method is quite deliberately used, and is well-rooted in Hardy's philosophy. The philosophy of the practice in Hardy's own words can be explained:

"Strange conjunctions of circumstances, particularly those of a trivial everyday kind, are so frequent in an ordinary life that we grow used to their accountableness..."

      In simple words, Hardy makes it clear that the chance happenings that take place in his novel also take place in life. He believes that there are indeed more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in man's philosophy.


      From the above account, it is clear that Fate plays a dominant part in the novels of Hardy. Quite often Fate acts on the lives of the characters in the form of chance happenings. It is no use blaming Hardy for the excessive use of Fate and chance in his novels for by the very nature of his theme they are essential in his world. In the world of Hardy, the struggle is between man and Destiny and the latter is more powerful than the former. Moreover, Destiny is an unknown force—we do not know how it acts. As a result of this it shows itself in the form of unexpected blows of chance. Thus, considering his philosophy of life, Hardy is justified in the use of Fate and chance to such a great extent in his novels.

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