Jack Durbeyfield: Character in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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      Two aspects of Jack’s character, First as Jack Durbeyfield, a simple fellow and then as Sir John d’Urberville, a representative of the ancient family of the knights. In both the cases the physique remains the same and, therefore, while seeing his person we should consider him a combination of two personalities calling him John Durbeyfield.

      Jack Durbeyfield is the first person whom we meet in the opening of the novel when he is found returning from the town Shaston. We know nothing about his countenance or the distinguishing features of his face. All that we know, is that his constitution is weak and his legs are rickety. It is also indicated in the succeeding chapters that he drinks.

      Jack Durbeyfield is the first person whom we meet in the opening of the novel when he is found returning from the town Shaston. All we come to know about his countenance in that his constitution is weak and he has rickety legs. Gradually in the following chapters, we learn that he also takes to drinking. The character of Jack Durbeyfield should be studied in two persons. Initially, he is a simple fellow called Jack Durbeyfield but later when he comes to know about his lineal representation of d’Urberville he becomes Sir John d’Urberville.

      Both the parents of Tess, Jack and Joan are comic figures but at the same time are pathetic figures also. Unlike Tess they do not reveal much dignity or self-respect. Their sense of responsibility is very weak and it is because of their negligence that Tess meets her doom.

Jack Durbeyfield

      In the garb of a poor villager he is the embodiment of simplicity. All the rusticity and innocence of which Hardy is a worshipper, is present in Jack Durbeyfield who never hesitates in telling that he is a poor haggler. A strange type of devotion arises in our hearts when we see him walking towards his village Marlott. The empty basket of eggs is hanging upon his arm and the nap of his hat is ruffled, a patch of it is totally torn where he catches with his thumb to take it off. He never thinks of anything in particular but still keeps himself busy in thinking about nothing. A kind of contentment rules over his face. He seems satisfied with his present life though he is facing many hardships. At this time everyone in his house is happy. His wife sings and works, his eldest daughter dances in the club and his younger children play and sleep. No care, no consciousness. He earns, all eat.

      When we first meet Jack, he is a simple poor villager. He is a poor haggler and is a representative of the rusticity and innocence of which Hardy is. very fond. We get a description of him when he is walking towards his village Marlott. “An empty egg-basket was slung upon his arm, the nap of his hat was ruffled, a patch being quite worn away at its lenin where his thumb came in taking it off.” Though he is not thinking of anything in particular but occasionally gives a smart nod as if in confirmation of something. On the way he meets Parson Tringham who addresses him as “Sir John” and convinces him that he has descended from a distinguished family of ancient lineage. Jack is elated by the news though by his noble descent he is neither going to gain in terms of money nor social status. But the news turns the head of the haggler, and we witness the ridiculous spectacle of “Sir John” rolling about magnificently in a hired carriage, singing a ridiculous song about his knightly ancestry.

Sir John d’Urberville

      But when he comes to know that he is the lineal representative of the d’Urbervilles, he turns crank. He feels that all should address him as Sir John, as Parson Tringham does. He stops earning and starts drinking. Hungry and penniless he becomes a real d’Urberville. The miseries fall upon the family when the d’Urberville dignity runs in his veins. He does not take the fodder-cart to the town and Prince dies. He does not earn the bread for his family and poor Tess in this endeavor loses her chastity. But side by side some good qualities also enter his temperament. He does not like that Tess should go to claim kinship or to work under the d’Urberville at Trantridge a lower family than that of his. May it be called a vain pride but out of his respect for his forefathers he does not like to sell the corpse of his dear horse Prince. Whenever he talks to any member of his family he speaks from a height. He drinks despite his heart disease, but no one can check him, he snores the whole day under the effect of alcohol but no one can check him, he himself starves and forces others to starve, but no one can object.

      Once Jack comes to know about his being a representative d’Urberville, he changes altogether. He feels that he should be addressed as “Sir John” by everybody. The innocent remark of the Parson about the aristocratic lineage of Jack Durbeyfield has an immediate impact on him. In spite of being drunk, this vision of past glory sinks very deep into his consciousness only to have tragic consequences later. Tess, his daughter feels rather embarrassed at the incongruous behavior of her father. An irresponsible and drunkard father. Jack now stops earning and starts drinking. Misery falls upon the family and Tess has to rise to the occasion. He constantly goes to the Rolliver's Inn to enjoy his drinking. The doctor has advised him to stay away from drinks but he does not pay any heed to the diagnosis of the doctor.

      The result of such a behavior on the part of the father is that Tess in the endeavor of earning the bread for the family loses her chastity. In fact, he is negligent to the extent that when his wife is lying on her death bed he sits relaxed by her in his easy chair thinking that the antiquarians of that part of England should subscribe to maintain him. He feels that since a lot of money is spent in keeping up ruins and finding bores of the ancients, they would be most delighted in maintaining the living remains of an ancient family.

A Great Shirker

      If the events of the novel are studied with keen eyes and their reasons are traced back to their origin, ultimately we come to the shirking personality of Sir John d’Urbervilles. Every adverse event, every ruinous calamity, every devastating situation arrives because the sole lineal representative of the d’Urbervilles wants to finish the coming generations. Just examine a scene. His wife is dying in her bed. Being informed by Liza-Lu, poor Tess returns from Flint Comb-Ash covering the distance of 15 miles in horrible darkness of night and sees a strange situation. The articles of the household are lying at sixes and sevens. And Sir John d’Urberville is lying in his easy chair and is thinking that the antiquarians of that part of England should subscribe to maintain him. He is sure since they are romantic and artistic, and since they spend lot of money in keeping up ruins and in finding bones of the ancients, therefore they will surely feel a pleasure in maintaining the living remains of an ancient family. Tess also takes part in his bigger plans, her mother dies. Therefore she leaves it away and goes to the bed of her mother.


      There is one more black aspect of his character besides his drinking and shirking and that is his suspicious temperament. When Tess informs about the real state of things to her mother quite sincerely and she (mother) informs about the condition to Sir John d’Urberville, he suspects the truth and character of his daughter whom he never recognizes. He utters a very bitter sentence. “D’ye think he really have married her?.... or is it like the first....”

A Moving Model and Positive Qualities

      In his delineation, Hardy has a purpose and that is to show, if a man descends from a high and respectable family, he does not surely become high and respectable. One’s character should be judged from one’s own actions and from one’s motives behind those actions. A family cannot give that dignity to a person what he can produce with his own deeds. Therefore, Jack Durbeyfield is deliberately changed into John d’Urberville and has been made as detestable as a boil upon the face. The remedy of such boil according to Hardy is nothing except an operation. Hardy wants to operate him and he dies in the operation theatre of Marlott. Hardy makes clear his object of creating and killing him by writing a sentence on his grave-stone - How are the Mighty Fallen!

      Undoubtedly Jack is responsible for every ruinous calamity and every devastating situation but he is not without his good qualities. For instance, he does not like Tess working for d’Urbervilles at Trantridge or seeking their help. “I don’t like my children going and making themselves beholden to strange kin’, murmured he “I am the head of the noblest branch o the family, and I ought to live up to it.” In another place when it comes to the selling of the corpse of the dead horse, Prince, he says, “No, I won’t sell his body. When we d’Urbervilles were knights in the land, we didn’t sell our chargers for cat’s meat. Let’am keep their shillings. He ‘ve served me well in his life-time, I won’t part from him now.” Though it is a vain pride yet it is out of respect for his forefathers.

Main Aspects of the Character in a Nut-Shell

1. A combination of two personalities.

2. Jack Durbeyfield—a simple poor haggler, satisfied with his life.

3. Sir John d’Urbervilles—filled with the vanity of his family.

4. He perpetually pours liquor into his starved stomach inspite his heart disease.

5. He is the greatest shirker and calls all the miseries to his family.

6. He is suspicious.

7. He is a moving model and Hardy emphasizes through him his pessimistic philosophy. How are the Mighty fallen! and elaborates his belief that one is not inherited with respect and dignity rather one gains it with one's own good actions.

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